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Saber's Edge

A Combat Medic in Ramadi, Iraq

Thomas A. Middleton

Publication Year: 2009

The National Guardsman, the citizen soldier called upon to fight for this nation in a time of war, is one of the least understood -- and perhaps one of the most compelling -- figures of the Iraq War. Saber's Edge is the story of a middle-aged Vermont firefighter called upon to be a soldier in the worst place on earth -- Ramadi, Iraq. In a few short weeks Thomas A. Middleton went from being a suburban dad to a combat medic traveling between platoons, filling in for other medics and engaging in some of the fiercest and most crucial fighting of the war.

This is the war as experienced from the ground level: days of tedium interspersed with the adrenalin of combat; moments of lighthearted laughter broken by the sorrow of loss. This is also the story of the unique wartime perspective of our guardsmen. Unlike the raw, unformed young recruit, the mature guardsman often comes with the burdens of family, experience, and a developed sense of self. Accordingly, Sgt. Middleton's story chronicles the inner conflict created by his long-time professional role as a healer and his newfound life as a warrior in the urban battlefields of Iraq. Thrust into a culture and theater of war that he is little equipped or trained for, the author tries to make sense of his actions. Coarsened by combat and increasingly disdainful of the local population, he receives solace and insight from his life-long faith and ultimately emerges as a man who understands his role in the world.

Saber's Edge is also the story of the Green Mountain Boys of Task Force Saber: a story of comradeship and communion amid fierce street fighting in a crucial theater of the Iraq War (the eventual site of the "Al Anbar Awakening"). Based on the author's first-hand experiences and interviews with other soldiers, Saber's Edge presents a riveting account of modern urban warfare and the inspiring story of one man reconciling his actions in warfare.

Published by: University Press of New England

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

I was resting upstairs on the morning of September 11, 2001. I remember my wife yelling up the stairs that we had been attacked. We watched the television together in horror as the second tower came down. The sound of the firefighters’ pass devices of the Fire Department of New...

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1: Mobilization

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pp. 1-16

I was working at my desk in the Fire Marshal’s Office one afternoon in June 2004 when the phone rang. “Fire Marshal’s Office, Middleton,” I answered.
Interruptions like this drove me crazy. Working an office job at the firehouse, I no longer felt like a firefighter. I walked past the big red...

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2: Into the Fiery Sands of War

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pp. 17-30

Our days in Kuwait drew to a close and we prepared for our unit’s first combat mission since the South Pacific islands campaign of World War II. Most of our troops flew into Iraq in a cargo plane, and then transferred to helicopters for the final leg of the journey. I tend to get airsick...

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3: The Autumn of Innocence

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pp. 31-49

Our greatest difficulty in Iraq was discerning the enemy combatants from the ordinary civilians. Aside from the members of Al Qaeda in Iraq and their affiliated terrorist cells, most Iraqis were just ordinary people who wanted to go about their daily lives. Under Saddam, the favored...

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4: Taking the Fight to the Enemy

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pp. 50-61

Some men reacted to enemy attacks with fear. I got angry. I wanted to take the fight to the enemy. One night while working the overnight shift with SSG. Bert Severin, I let him know how I felt. Severin was the squad leader for the line medics assigned to A Company and B Troop. A mountain...

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5: Life by the Sword

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pp. 62-75

During my first night on patrol in the Tameem District of Ramadi with Alpha Company, I got a taste of things to come. It was an afternoon/ evening shift in mid-­ October, and I rolled out in the late afternoon riding with Joe Lewis to conduct some random house searches....

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6: The Streets of Tameem

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pp. 76-88

The streets of Tameem were a deadly and unforgiving place. Just venturing out there was putting your life in extreme danger. A slum with about fifty thousand inhabitants, it was rife with snipers, IEDs, and RPG teams. Every rooftop, every doorway, every corner potentially held a...

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7: Faith and the Just War

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pp. 89-102

It is said that what does not kill you makes you stronger. The insurgents tried hard to kill me, but they failed. In their wake, they left a bitter and determined soldier who fought aggressively against them.
The experience of killing the enemies of our nation was not the difficult one that I imagined it would be. Before I headed into combat, I...

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8: Haji Gets Blown Up

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pp. 103-106

I rediscovered that slightly edgy feel I used to get during a busy shift on the ambulance, situationally aware, tactical, and on my game. Having resolved my moral questions, I came to embrace this combat mind-­ set. It was a good feeling, but I would also be just as content to ride around in the hummer all day doing nothing....

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9: Midnight Raid on Al Qaeda

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pp. 107-117

Two days after Christmas was my thirty-­ eighth birthday. What better way to celebrate than to ride along with SSG Murtha on a raid? We had in-­ telligence reports that the occupants of a particular house were heavily involved in the insurgency. We kicked their door in and caught them completely off guard....

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10: The Glass Factory Disaster

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pp. 118-123

Overlooking our forward operating base was an abandoned glass factory. The place was huge, with smokestacks and tall buildings that loomed over the base like the scepter of death. Our predecessors took sniper fire from the glass factory, and closed it down. It stood, towering over the perimeter of our base, acting as a barrier between us and some of...

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11: Target: Irhabee

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pp. 124-132

There were some areas of Ramadi that we just simply did not go into. The insurgency knew this, and they sought shelter there. One of the most frustrating things about tracking down radical Islam is the Muslim duty to take in strangers and to provide nourishment, shelter, and protection to anyone who seeks it. It is considered a sin not to fulfill this duty....

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12: Shootout in Tameem

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pp. 133-138

“What was that?” I asked our gunner, Spec. Swartz. “Somebody’s flipping pigeons on that roof in front of us!” I was sitting in the back seat, and looking forward through the windshield, I saw a flock of birds launch from the roof of an apartment building....

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13: Charlie Company and the Jundii Raid

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pp. 139-143

One of the things that amazed me while serving in Ramadi was our sophisticated radar system that would track incoming mortars and pin-­ point their launch sites. Our own mortars and artillery would use the information provided by these radar systems and immediately counter-­ attack....

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14: The 5K Mosque Bandits

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pp. 144-152

I spent the latter part of December and most of January working exclu-­ sively with the men of Alpha Company’s Blue Platoon while their medic was home on leave. It was a fun-­ filled time of shootouts and explosions, busting bad guys, and narrowly escaping death. I wouldn’t have traded...

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15: The Battle of OP 2

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pp. 153-176

In February 2006, the 2nd Marine Division finished its tour and was replaced by the 1st Marine Division, which established its headquarters in Fallujah rather than at Camp Blue Diamond, outside Ramadi....

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16: Real Stories from the Highway Patrol

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pp. 177-180

Not everything that happened in Ramadi was bad. Some of it was downright funny. In the days and weeks following the Battle of OP 2, we were aggressive in our dealings with the local population. Our minds were made up: we would stop every car we suspected of carrying insurgents...

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17: B Troop on Patrol

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pp. 181-194

One of the most frustrating things for a soldier to do is to sit on the sidelines while others fight. This was the case with the company commander, who had not been out in the fighting much since arriving in Iraq. He was a man of ambition, whose National Guard career meant a great deal to him. Very young at twenty-six, he looked fourteen. The...

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18: My Last Battle

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pp. 195-205

“Blackjack 31, this is Blackjack X-­ ray,” came the radio call late in the evening. “Danger X-­ ray is reporting their rovers passing through the area found an IED on South Street, just outside the FOB. They request you take over the security cordon for EOD so that they may continue into their sector.”...

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19: Going Home

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pp. 206-216

Our last few days in Ramadi felt hollow. We had spent the previous year fighting this war with every ounce of strength we could muster. Now we milled about, waiting our turn to leave. We had learned a lot about our battle space, yet many of the Regular Army soldiers who replaced...


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pp. 217-230


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pp. 231-233

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658405
E-ISBN-10: 1584658401
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657477

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Middleton, Thomas A.
  • Iraq War, 2003- -- Campaigns -- Iraq -- Ramādī.
  • Ramādī (Iraq) -- History, Military -- 21st century.
  • Iraq War, 2003- -- Personal narratives, American.
  • United States. Army -- Medical personnel -- Biography.
  • Iraq War, 2003- -- Medical care.
  • Burlington (Vt.) -- Biography.
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