I got a surprise email today from my good buddy Scooter, wishing me a Happy Alive Day. I was surprised, and then I realized I should not have been as I guess it has stuck with him as much as it has stuck with me. See, three years and one day ago I had one of many close calls, and the first of several â€œAlive Daysâ€ that I had during my one year in Afghanistan.
Below is the blog post called â€œTwenty-Five Feet Made the Differenceâ€ which was originally published on Sept. 9th, 2006.
Twenty-Five Feet made the difference
I have labored over the last 24 hours on how to write the following blog entry. See I know a lot of people are following this blog now, many more that I donâ€™t know then I do know. There is my wife and kids, my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and many friends I am close to through my years in the military and civilian sectors. There are also people following this blog that are here in country on the same mission I am on, some that are coming to A-stan on the next rotation in 2007 and parents and loved ones of other soldiers that are here. It is because of this I have been torn about whether to write about the events of 9/8/06 or not. The one I worry about most is my Mom, but you know my mom has been a wife of a Special Forces soldier her whole adult life. A soldier that because of his job was in harms way many more times than the US govt will ever admit too. She has also weathered me being in combat once before and me spending a year on the DMZ in Korea. She is no dummy, and knows that this is no boy scout camp over here.
My decision was finally reached when I realized that I am not here to fool or sugarcoat anything or anybody. This place is a friggen war zone and war is painful and sometimes hurts. I donâ€™t care what the news says or how they say it, people die in Afghanistan the same way they do in Iraqâ€¦with their heart taking one last beat. In the last 24 hours several soldiers have died in this country. Two were killed in Kabul yesterday as their convoy was rammed with a suicide bomber and two were killed within feet of me yesterday. The two in Kabul were American soldiers, the two with me were ANA soldiers. Soldiers all the same. All fighting for the same cause, and all fighting the same enemy. Kind of ironic that just a little over a week ago I was posting entries, photos and videos of Kabul and then on the same road I was on in a convoy going around traffic circles a convoy was hit yesterday. Also ironic that in the last week while on the way to a mission we were hit with and IED, within the first hour of arriving at our destination we were rocketed, and then yesterday after a very successful mission we were hit with an IED again.
Among the happy stories of Humanitarian drops, throwing candy to kids, and mentoring about how to clean up a base, there is a war going on. A war where everyone outside my wire must be considered the enemy, an enemy that would just as soon as see me dead as me throw their kids candy. Not everyone is our enemy as most here just want peace. But until there is a way to tell a difference they must all be considered that way. Usually the tell-tale sign is when they are trying to kill you, but by then it is too late.
Twenty-five feet, that is all it took. 25 feet separated me from being here and me being shipped home in a box. See this SOB was trying to blow up my truck, but due to several factors of technology, driving TTPs, and I believe God watching over me he was not able to. However he was able to blow up the truck behind me, and the word blow up does not do it justice. In order not to give the enemy propaganda or intel I will not post pictures of the truck, craters, or anything else. Trust me, you really do not want to see them anyway. It did not resemble a truck when all was said and done anyway. The truck was filled with 4 ANA NCOs, and some of the best ones I have met. These were guys that I just sat down and had dinner with a few nights before to celebrate our big mission we were undertaking. For opsec reasons I will not discuss ranks or names, but the loss of these guys has a severe impact on the ANA.
These were NCOs that were running back and forth through the convoy to make sure everyone was ok and dealing with issues. When one of the US soldiers driving a Humvee had to make an emergency stop because he was sick, it was these guys, these Afghan soldiers, who drove back to the rear of the convoy to take him medicine. They did not have to, and really should not have for their own safety, yet they did.
And it was not more than 30 minutes after that as I was taking evasive maneuvers in a choke point and just coming out of it that time stood still and also sped up to a blur all at the same time. I felt the back of my truck lift off the ground before I heard the sound, with the shockwave pushing through me. Once before I talked about how the mind can move faster and think and see things faster than we can comprehend, and that is what happened here. As soon as my mind registered that we got hit, I did 3 things almost instantaneously. I punched the accelerator so hard I thought the pedal was going to go through the floor, looked in my mirror to see black smoke and brown dust enveloping the back of my truck and turned to yell to Scooter. Scooter was in the hatch, and the gunner is always the most exposed. Luckily for him, his natural reflex was to buckle his knees and drop inside. I think I yelled for him like 3 times asking if he was all right before he responded that he was. That was all within about 2-3 seconds. I then turned around to focus on the road and look for secondary IEDs. Somewhere I must have heard the .50 cal open up from the back of the convoy and I started yelling â€œambush, ambushâ€. However later I found it was the rear truck opening up on the trigger man as he took off. Even know I donâ€™t remember hearing it shoot, but I figure my mind must have and caused me to yell â€œambush!â€. I kept looking in my rear view mirror and saw nothing come through the smoke. I was calling higher on the radio telling them the ANA were hit. I think I told them we were fine, but I knew that truck behind me was not. He was on my butt since he was riding close to me the whole time. I knew then that the ANA truck behind me with 4 great NCOs in it was taken out. I went a short distance and then told higher I was turning around. I spun that 6 ton beast in the fastest 3 point turn I think I ever did and was hauling back to the site, while looking for ambushes or more IEDs the whole time. As we came up on it, I started calling in the sitrep as the scene of bodies, twisted metal, craters and truck parts blown everywhere presented itself. We stopped and then went into motion. Afghan and US soldiers working side by side. Putting wounded on stretchers, getting security out on the hill tops around us, and pushing a truck off of a pinned guy so they could get him out. I worked on getting the tac sat up, the 9-line medevac request called up, and the HLZ set up for the birds coming in while other guys were protecting us with gun coverage, others were putting the ANA security out, and more importantly several were working side by side with ANA medics trying to save lives. One guy that was in the truck was obviously dead, as I knew this when we pulled up. Three others were wounded but all were being cared for. As I was putting out the panel for the bird and looking back at the triage site, I was momentarily amazed as I saw ANA junior soldier medics and US field grade officers all on their knees trying to save this guyâ€™s life. IVs were in, tourniquets were applied to severed limbs, pulses were being taken, medical gear was strewn everywhere. Terps were all around trying to distinguishing between who was telling what to who, and doing their best to keep both ANA and US informed of what the other was saying. I have always believed that it is in times like this, times of death and terror that the true side of men is shown and I saw it here.
It seemed like an eternity before the medevac showed up, but it wasnâ€™t. It was there pretty fast and we even had fast mover and Apache coverage. Right before the bird showed up I looked back and saw the ANA and US together doing CPR, and I knew it was not good. I heard pulses being yelled out of â€œ58â€ and things like â€œheavy labored breathingâ€. I could not wish those birds there any faster. We put the most critical on the first bird and it took off immediately, even before we had cleared the rotors. The next bird took the two other wounded soldiers, and as I help load the last one, he looked up and gave me a thumbs up. This guy smiles more than any other ANA soldier I have ever met. Every time I see him he goes out of his way to shake my hand and call me his buddy and is always smiling. Somehow by either the grace of my God or his God he squeezed out a half smile as he threw me the bandaged thumbs up. I knew he would at least be ok.
Once the birds were gone we focused on collecting evidence and treating it as a crime scene. Lots of pictures were taken, the one body was loaded up along with all the pieces we could find, and parts and pieces of the vehicle were collected. Many other actions had to happen also, and eventually many hours later we were able to leave. We got back to our FOB in the dark, after a very long day. It was a sad day for the ANA and for the US ETTs. The mission we ran for 3 days was highly successful and to have it end like this on our way back home was just a kick in the pants.
After we got back to our FOB the confirmed news came in that the one soldier, the driver of that truck, that everyone worked so hard on died on an operating table at the Forward Surgical Treatment center located at the FOB we just left. I knew in my heart it was not good and it would have taken a true miracle for him to pull through. He was a fighter and hung in there as long as he could, including even coming back to life after his heart had stopped. But the blast and shrapnel was just too much for his body to take. The sad thing is that the passenger who was sitting next to him and died instantly was his cousin. That poor family has a lot of grief on their hands, and even though my God is different than theirs they are in my prayers.
Heat and pressure forges the best steel into shape. This same concept of heat and pressure forge men together also. Today as I walked around, my new Brigade COL, CSM, the terps, the 10th Mountain soldiers with us, and more importantly the ANA all look at each other a little differently. For we were the ones out there yelling at each other, helping each other, and working side by side to save lives and still ensure our security. There is a bond there, a bond that only soldiers who are under heat and pressure can understand. It is a unspoken bond and one that cannot be described. Those hours yesterday, the images, the smells, the sounds will be something none of us will ever forget. For the four guys in my truck, we all know that we are lucky be here today. We were the target and thankfully they missed us, but unfortunately not everyone was as fortunate.
May God bless the souls of all fallen soldiers that fight with us, and may God protect all of us still around to fight.