RAMADI, Iraq (AP) The shooting started at dusk, a solid half hour of bullets zinging into the U.S. Army outpost, probably from AK-47 rifles firing from abandoned houses nearby.
Soldiers returned fire, shaking the heavily fortified mansion where they live to its foundation as they ran through hundreds of rounds.
Things got quiet again for a while, but it didn't last.
Bursts of gunfire erupted sporadically, and then, shortly before 11 p.m., a soldier manning a machine gun on the roof radioed downstairs to say something wasn't right on the street below.
Seconds later, a single bullet tore through his chin. Blood coated the gunner's nest. The bulletproof glass ringing its bottom had not been hit, suggesting the soldier had gotten to his feet just before the shot came.
As word spread through the outpost, soldiers in the wounded man's platoon, part of the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, rushed through the dark of the rooftop. They yelled for a medic. One came, scrambling so fast up two flights of stairs that he fell hard, banging his knee.
They placed the wounded man on a stretcher. They carried him gently but quickly down the stairs.
Those soldiers not carrying the stretcher or hurrying to assemble an evacuation team were left to wait with only their anguish. They yelled. They punched walls and kicked things. They lit cigarettes and sobbed.
A column of Humvees and a tank waited outside the outpost in south-central Ramadi, engines running. Soldiers threw smoke grenades to provide cover for the team with the stretcher. Whoever shot the soldier was probably still out there in the dark somewhere.
But the medical team suddenly stopped in the middle of the kitchen and laid the wounded man down on the tile floor to insert an intravenous drip. His eyes were open, but his face was covered with blood.
They checked for a pulse. First one arm, then the other. They couldn't find one. His platoon sergeant, Juan Pena, stepped forward and breathed into the soldier's open mouth once, twice. He wasn't breathing.
The team lifted the stretcher up. They loaded it into a Humvee. The convoy left with a roar of engines. They reached the nearest major base, Camp Ramadi, just outside town, in minutes.
U.S. military pilots radioed to warn that they would be dropping a 500-pound bomb on the area near the outpost where gunmen were hiding, still shooting at the outpost. The bomb hit, shaking the neighborhood with its tremendous explosion, and the shooting stopped.
Pena, 29, from San Jose, Calif., called his platoon into a side bedroom. He sat on a flat green cot and choked back tears as he spoke.
``I'm not going to lie to you. It's not looking good,'' he said. ``But we've got to keep it together, because we're working.
``I know it's difficult _ because I feel it, too.''
Pena and 1st Lt. Gerard Dow had orders to lead a mission to sweep through homes looking for insurgents in a particularly dangerous sector of the city. They needed to leave in a few minutes.
The pair told much of the platoon to stay behind, however, and grieve together. Soldiers changed pants and boots that were stained with the fallen man's blood.
``They're not going to let up, so we're going to go to work,'' Pena said.
Dow stepped forward. He told those assembled what they already knew, Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is dominated by insurgents out to kill Americans and is among the most dangerous spots in all of Iraq.
``We all know what can happen to any of us,'' he said. ``What we need now is to keep our head in the game.''
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gann, the wounded man's squad leader, stared blankly at a wall for a moment, then spoke.
``They won tonight,'' he said. ``But we've got to protect the guys next to us. We're dying for nothing and that's all we've got.''
Pena and Dow left on the mission, leading soldiers who had arrived from other outposts around the city.
It was quiet for a time. But word came in from Camp Ramadi at 1:05 a.m.
The other members of the wounded man's platoon filed into the same side bedroom and locked arms in a silent circle. Spc. Nicholas R. Gibbs, 25, of Stokesdale, N.C., was dead.
He was one of seven Americans killed in combat Wednesday in volatile Anbar province, along with four other soldiers in the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and two Marines.