By Heather Graham-Ashley, Fort Hood Public AffairsApril 21, 2017
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Thirteen years later, the Soldiers of Task Force Lancer and the events of April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, Iraq, remain a legacy fiercely guarded by the storyteller and the man who led the brigade.
National Geographic will soon share those events with the world through an eight-part miniseries, "The Long Road Home," currently being filmed here.
"The Long Road Home," based on the book of the same name by ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, recounts the story of a platoon of 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers who were ambushed during a routine escort mission and patrol through Sadr City and the emboldened attempts to rescue the pinned down men.
During separate visits to Fort Hood, Raddatz and current U.S. Army Forces Command Commanding General Gen. Robert B. "Abe" Abrams, who led 1st Bde., 1st Cav. Div., in 2004, spoke about "The Long Road Home."
Raddatz returned to Fort Hood April 3-5 to visit the sets and meet with the Soldiers whose story she shared with the world.
She said the people involved and the political climate of the world made the story compelling. When the 1st Cav. Div. deployed in 2004, the world was so focused on policy and how the war should be run that the fact that we were already at war was lost, Raddatz said.
The Soldiers of Task Force Lancer left Fort Hood for what was then-considered a peace-keeping mission, only to find themselves ambushed and outnumbered in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, mere days into their arrival in Iraq.
"These were not combat veterans," Raddatz said. "They were just everyday people. It could have been anybody."
Eight Soldiers lost their lives in the battle that day, seven 1st Cav. Div. troopers and one Soldier from 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor, 1st Armored Division.
"It was a massive loss," Raddatz said.
Black Sunday is remembered by history as the largest loss of life in a single incident at that point since the fall of Baghdad.
In her book, Raddatz also shared the experiences of the Families of the Soldiers deployed. These are real people, real Families who came together that day and fought for each other, she said.
Then-Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the 1st Cav. Div., and then-Col. Abrams suggested Raddatz go see the Families and hear their stories while she was working on the book.
Raddatz spoke about the "innocence of the Families" during that stage of the war. At that time, they were inexperienced with combat and unaware of the conditions in Iraq.
"When they (Soldiers) are over there, the Family has no idea what their Soldier is doing," she said, noting the time difference and unfamiliarity with war back then.
While visiting the sets and speaking with crew members, Raddatz was pleased with the production and the crew's collective commitment to the story. When watching the miniseries, she hopes viewers understand it is scripted non-fiction, but as true to real-life events as possible.
"It is powerful," she said.
Raddatz said the actors seem to be vested in the story and their roles and legitimately care about the project.
"These people are here because it means something to them," Raddatz said. "They studied, read the book and want to do it justice."
Raddatz said she is happy that a wider audience will soon learn about the Soldiers of Task Force Lancer and their bravery that day and over the ensuing days in Sadr City.
"I'm happy for them," she said. "This will help people remember even more."
For those who were in that battle, remembering is easy. Abrams, like many others, has difficulty talking about those days.
"For most of us, it's really hard to talk about," Abrams said.
Although April 2004 marked his first time dealing with combat, there have been successive combat deployments for Abrams, who now leads U.S. Army Forces Command. But Sadr City was just a different situation, he said.
"Memories fade," he said, "but it is still crystal clear to me, without question."
Abrams could draw the entire diagram with route names, their Iraqi names and Arabic names. He can recall the most vivid memories of that day, even 13 years later.
"I will never forget it," Abrams said. "None of us who were there will ever forget it."
Abrams remains awed by the actions of his Soldiers and those that stepped in to help from 1st Armored that day.
The brigade commander had only been in Baghdad for three days at the time of the uprising, and he had not yet assumed command.
The unit was attacked before a hand-off of responsibility had taken place and the 1st AR Div. was still in command.
Abrams credited the tanks from 1st AR Div. with allowing Lancer Brigade Soldiers access to the cut off platoon.
"It has been said that everybody has a moment in their life," Abrams said. "Everybody who was present, that was their moment in life. There will never be any replacement for it."
To this day, the brotherhood among the Lancer Brigade Soldiers forged on that day, and the ensuing days, is still there.
"The connection you see between those guys, it will be with them forever," Abrams said.
As bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse, he said.
"A number of really amazing things happened that night," Abrams said, adding the division had five different battalions attacking on five independent axis into the city to try to get the trapped platoon.
There were no incidents of fratricide while the units, two of which had never before stepped foot inside the city, fought their way through Sadr City in the dark.
"It was pretty doggone amazing," Abrams said.
By dawn April 5, 2004, all seven Iraqi police stations in the city were under U.S. control, the District Advisory Council hall was secured, every Soldier was accounted for and every piece of equipment had been dragged out, except one HMMWV.
"There was nothing left," Abrams said.
The pace did not stop that night.
"When the sun came up, we retook everything we needed to retake, firmly established security presence in the streets," Abrams said. "It was non-stop for about 80 days, except for that time-out for the memorial ceremony."
Friday afternoon, the Soldiers took a timeout to honor their fallen. The memorial was held April 9, 2004, at Forward Operating Base War Eagle.
"It was really hard," Abrams said.
At that ceremony, every company guidon was there, even though no invitations had been issued.
"Everybody showed up with some type of representation," Abrams said. "It was really remarkable."
All of the Soldiers were brought back for the memorial ceremony, only to head back out into the city a few hours later.
By then, they all knew what they would be facing.
"The Soldiers, that day and every day thereafter, were phenomenal," he said. "It was unbelievable."
Abrams said he hopes the miniseries shows that. He said he knows the crew is committed to doing that, but the Soldiers that day and ensuing days faced an incredibly bad situation.
"They were disciplined, they were precise," Abrams said. "They were terrific. That's why I hope this show actually does them justice.
His pride in those troops is clear, even 13 years removed from the situation.
"In the spirit of American Soldiers, they figured it out, they persevered," Abrams said. "They overcame unbelievable odds that were against them."
National Geographic's miniseries, "The Long Road Home," is slated to premiere in the fall.