Nine and a half years ago a rocket propelled grenade nearly took my life.
Looking through my night vision goggles, the horizon was kissed with green on black. The Iraqi night had an aura that was almost calming… But brought an eeriness that made my eyes and ears perk as I maintained the endless vigilance, or “paranoia”, of my surroundings. Danger could come from anyone and everyone as it hid amongst the common civilians.
It was midnight as we convoyed our way north towards Baghdad. All of our missions had shifted to night ops as the attacks had ramped up and running in the light of day seemed to be a worse idea as each day passed. The night was warm but brought a chill as the winds of the open road blew at my face atop the HUMVEE as I manned the .50 cal machine gun position.
We approached an unmanned checkpoint below an overpass and we slowed to weave through the concrete barriers. Our squad leader Staff Sergeant Bryson told my buddy and our driver, Rody, to slow the vehicle and shine the high beams to the spray painted number on the bridge. We needed to marked our position.
Our gun truck was number 2 in a long stretch of supply flatbeds and our accompanying platoon guntrucks. We were the firepower and security if anything were to go wrong- essentially the badasses to bring the heat if need be.
As we began to speed past the bridge I hear a loud “SWOOSH!” blaze right past my right ear. It was followed quickly by a loud explosion on the embankment of the bridge we just drove under. I yelled below, “contact left, contact left” as Rody slammed the pedal to the metal and we took off out of the kill zone.
The radio comms were loud and confusing and the source of attack was not obvious at all.
After 20 seconds or so and allowing the situation to unfold, we realize two RPG’s had just bracketed our vehicle, with one whipping across the hood of our HUMVEE and right past Rody’s eyes in a streak of a red fireball.
The 3 of us had just escaped the jaws of sure death by just a half a second of speed.
That was nearly the end. Rody, Seargent Bryson and myself in this one moment could have become another statistic on the death tally of the war. A couple people across the world in the desert sands of Iraq decide to pull the triggers of two rocket propelled grenades and send them flying our way. The “why” behind this act isn’t easy to answer. We simply represented something they obviously didn’t like.
I think back to this day and the emotions that come with it. At the time, Americans were very pro-troops with yellow ribbons on every bumper. While the war was/is an obvious controversy, the American spirit was deep and real and you could feel that energy upon our return from the 19 month deployment.
As time passes and nearly 10 years have somehow slipped by, I tend to forget the details of those days and what it was like living in the desert for so long. For the first few years I could easily think back and have a deep appreciation for how good life was in the US of A. But now, I often struggle with embracing how good I have it and find myself fixated on how to enhance or improve my reality.
I write this as I sip my large iced Americano, under the sun in a local coffee shop of Washington D.C. My Macbook Air on my lap and acoustic guitar music in my earbuds.
I’ve seen with my very eyes some truly ugly places with the locals going through some of the worst of times. I’ve experienced insanely trying situations of 20 hour missions while trying to sleep in 130 degrees of heat.
Whenever the need, I can look back on those times in the desert and compare them to what I have today. I’m a veteran on veterans day and I’m trying to appreciate this goodness… An iced Americano and acoustic guitar in my ear buds. Sure beats RPG’s whizzing by my head.
I want to give a huge shout out to all my brothers and sisters in arms. Let’s sit back and enjoy what we DO have. Things aren’t perfect is the U.S. but it sure could be a whole lot worse. Thank you for your sacrifice as it was/is one that still needs to be made in today’s world.
Cheers to you!
Here’s a 5 minute picture/video montage put together by a a buddy of mine, Shawn Niehoff who I served with in Iraq.