Local veteran discusses Iraq experience in light of TV show

Submitted photo Joshua Cosme, right, is pictured with his family including his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Aliana, Christopher and Anthony.

This past week was the TV series premiere of National Geographic’s “The Long Road Home.” Meanwhile, a Dunkirk native has mixed feelings surrounding the program’s portrayal of its source material.

That’s because Joshua Cosme, a local veteran, has the distinction of witnessing the events that form the basis of “The Long Road Home,” and the companion book upon which it is based, firsthand when they first occurred back in 2004.

“The Long Road Home,” which premiered Tuesday, Nov. 7, is based on the 2007 Martha Raddatz book of the same name. It chronicles the events initiated in Sadr City, Baghdad, on April 4, 2004 — later referred to in the military as “Black Sunday” — and its resultant aftermath.

More formally known as “The Siege of Sadr City,” the events involve intense combat between U.S. forces and the insurgent Mahdi Army’s militiamen, who ambushed a 1st Cavalry Division patrol and expelled Iraqi police from three police stations in Sadr City beginning April 4. Members of the newly arrived 1st Cavalry Division were sent out to retake the stations.

Eight U.S. troops were killed and 51 more wounded in the bloody battle. The U.S. forces subsequently regained control of the police stations after running firefights with Mahdi rebels that killed 35 Mahdi Army militiamen; more than 500 were reported killed by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

Cosme, who now lives in Jamestown, was present during the initial stages of the siege as part of C Battery 1-82 Field Artillery, which was attached to the 2-5 Cav Infantry regiment. Cosme said members of the unit his was replacing told him that there was rarely any violence during their deployment, and so he was expecting a peace-keeping mission.

However, he said, things soon took on a different look.

“I remember hearing gunfire over the radio and pleas for backup as the first wave of cav soldiers were ambushed,” Cosme said. “Soon, 2-5 Cav sent out a second wave to rescue the soldiers who had taken small arms fire and RPGs. As soldiers began to roll in and out of our (forward observation base), we could see the damage to their vehicles. I asked a Bradley driver how bad it was out there and he said, ‘Don’t go out there man, there’s nothing but death.’ Soon casualties began rolling onto our base. Our medic station was quickly filling up with injured soldiers and KIAs. Finally, we got the call.”

Cosme said his unit was assigned to retake a police station that had previously been secured by the infantry regiment before it was overrun. He and his unit, including his personal friends Cpl. Forest Jastes and Spc. Casey Sheehan, boarded a Humvee and headed into the city.

“As we made our way through the city, it was very quiet,” he said. “For a city with 10,000 people per block this was obviously not normal. The Mahdi army had flooded the streets with raw sewage to make us gag and lose focus. They also set up road blocks to slow us down. As we approached our first road block a loud cracking sound was heard, then another and then constant fire from almost every rooftop.

“We trained our weapons towards the rooftops and started laying down hundreds of rounds. I still remember the first person I hit. Everything was happening so fast but seemed like slow motion.”

While winding through the city streets, the unit continued to take on gunfire and Sheehan was struck in the head. The group was finally able to extract itself from the city to transport Sheehan to the casualty collection point, but as it was leaving Jastes was struck in the face by a solo sniper round.

It wasn’t until later that Cosme was able to confirm that both of his friends had died in the assault.

“When we returned to base I was so covered in (Jastes’) blood that medics quickly threw me on the ground and searched for bullet holes,” he said. “I told them I was OK; it was my friend’s blood … Eight hours of hell followed and then calm, and we were called to formation. Our company commander announced to us that Forest and Casey had both been killed. This was my third day of a yearlong deployment and I had lost the one person (Jastes) who taught me everything about how to be a soldier.”

“I remember being so angry, sad and just broken inside,” he continued. “I was told to change my uniform because I was covered head to toe in my friend’s blood but I refused. Some way it seemed that by having his blood on me he was still here, so I slept in it. In total, we lost eight soldiers that night and over 60 were wounded. We battled the enemy throughout the duration of our deployment and believe me, they paid for it that night.”

Cosme said he was hesitant to talk about his experience when he was first interviewed by Raddatz for her book, but felt that someone needed to tell Jastes’ and Sheehan’s stories. As for the forthcoming TV series, he said he is mostly glad that more Americans will be exposed to the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers on “Black Sunday,” but he is undecided on if he will watch it himself.

“I’m glad that everyone will get to know the true price of war,” he said. “Viewers will see the sacrifice made by so many and hopefully the families (of those who died) can get some closure.”

Cosme has resided in Jamestown with his family for the past three years. He is currently completing his bachelor’s degree at Jamestown Business College, and plans to pursue a master’s degree in sports management.

Additionally, he volunteers as coach of the Jamestown Lightning baseball team, as well as house leagues for Jamestown Babe Ruth. He said his true passion is in helping his fellow veterans, whether it is through processing claims with the VA or getting them involved with organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the local PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Program.

“The Long Road Home” continues Tuesday at 9 p.m. on National Graphic. For more information on the TV series, visit nationalgeographic.com.