On a late summer night of 2004 in al Anbar province, Iraq, just south of Abu Ghraib, an observation post (OP) of four Marines was shot at briefly from the shadows. The Marines made out two silhouettes in the distance, returned fire, and pursued them into the darkness. One of the Marines said to the others as they searched the area, "I think I got one!" But no sign of them was found. Moments later, in a small tent several miles away, I read their report on my computer delivered by email.
Fifteen minutes after that, another report came in over the radio from a different Marine foot patrol in the vicinity. They'd stopped a vehicle and found two men inside; one of them had a gunshot wound to the shoulder. The driver told the Marine patrol leader that his friend had been caught in the crossfire of a civil dispute run amok. He was rushing him to the hospital.
It was a likely enough scenario -- we routinely saw the results of these sorts of incidents -- but the patrol leader quickly called me to be sure. "This guy is bleeding pretty bad," he said. "You want me to let them go? Or do you want to send us a Medevac?" He didn't know about the OP engagement that had taken place less than a mile away.
"Tell him to hold on to them," I said to my radio operator. "I'll have a helicopter there in five minutes." As I spoke, I began generating my own report on my laptop to send up to headquarters.
The entire chain of command knew what was happening even before it was over.
This is the nature of the modern battlefield.