"We've got to get her off that bridge," he said.
Capt. Chris Carter winced at the risks his men would have to take. Engaged in a raid on this Euphrates River town, they were battling for a bridge when, through the smoke, they saw the elderly woman. She had tried to race across the bridge when the U.S. soldiers arrived, but was caught in crossfire.
At first they thought she was dead, like the man sprawled in the dust nearby. But during breaks in the gunfire that whizzed over her head, she sat up and waved for help.
Carter, a 32-year-old Army Ranger, ordered his Bradley Fighting Vehicle moved forward while he and two other men ran behind it. They took cover behind the bridge's iron beams. Carter tossed a smoke grenade for more cover and approached the woman, who was crying and pointing at a wound on her hip.
She wore a black abayah, a robe common among older women in the countryside. Blood soaked through the fabric onto the pavement around her.
Medics put the woman on a stretcher and into an ambulance; Carter stood by, providing cover with his M-16 automatic rifle. Then she was gone, and the battle raged on for the town of 80,000 about 50 miles south of Baghdad.
By the end of the day, the Army unit would fight street to street, capture or kill scores of Iraqi soldiers, blow up a Baath Party headquarters and destroy heaps of ammunition and mortars. No U.S. soldiers were killed, but from the beginning officers in the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment described the mission as "hairy."
"Yeah, hold a strategic bridge with one infantry company that has only two platoons -- a hell of a mission," Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp, the battalion commander, said with a smile.