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In the run-up to that date, insurgents were increasingly often attacking military convoys with home-made bombs known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs)--typically, munitions disguised as roadside trash and detonated by remote control. While on patrol Sept. 23, the Tomb Raiders helped evacuate a U.S. military police officer who had been hit in the eye by shrapnel from an IED. On the way back to the palace, Colgan's vehicle disappeared in a cloud of dust when a second bomb exploded near it. "I thought they'd been hit," says Major Scott Sossaman, the battalion's operations officer who had been communicating with Colgan. "For 10 seconds we didn't know what happened." Then Colgan's voice crackled over the line again. "We're O.K.," he said.
By the beginning of Ramadan in late October, the 2nd Battalion was finding five IEDs a week in Adhamiya. At the same time, the palace compound was taking fire from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades nearly every night. Ilardi discussed the sector's deteriorating security with Colgan. "These IEDs are getting crazy," Ilardi said. "I don't know how we can combat it." Colgan shrugged and said, "We have to keep doing what we're doing." Ilardi says both men agreed that they should keep the thick windows of their humvees closed to prevent shrapnel from flying in.
In an e-mail to his father, Colgan sounded uncharacteristically worried, writing, "Dad, it's getting old, and it's getting crazy." On Oct. 31, after a mortar attack on the palace injured two soldiers, the Tomb Raiders combed the streets of Adhamiya looking for the perpetrators. They came up empty, but Colgan believed he had obtained a fix on the coordinates of a suspected insurgent cell leader. The next morning he e-mailed his father again: "The fighting is very one-sided. They are on the offensive, and we are mostly on the defensive. Only time will tell, and I hope it works out for this place. I just don't ever care to visit again."
On the night of Nov. 1, the platoon was tasked with staying in reserve at the base, ready to serve as the battalion's quick-reaction force in case of an attack. At 11:30 p.m., an RPG landed inside the walls of the palace. Members of a sister platoon to the Tomb Raiders were on patrol at the time and opened fire on a vehicle they believed had launched the grenade, but the car got away. The Tomb Raiders loaded into three humvees and joined the chase, Colgan riding shotgun in the lead vehicle and Schermerhorn driving. When the convoy reached a bridge leading out of Adhamiya, Colgan told Schermerhorn to swing around to cut off traffic going toward it. His window was down.
As the vehicle turned, an explosion went off under the humvee's right tire. "It felt like we hit a boulder," Schermerhorn recalls. "A shock wave went through the vehicle. I was stunned for a split second. I was deafened for a few minutes." Whiteside, who was in the gunner's turret, was knocked unconscious by the blast and fell onto Buxton's lap. Buxton patted him in the dark, feeling for blood, but found none. As Whiteside righted himself, Schermerhorn waited for Colgan's instructions. But Colgan was unconscious. Blood poured out of the left side of his forehead. His eye was bulging and purplish. "Get him home!" Buxton yelled.