Excerpts from a letter written on 9 Aug 2003 – This is the third part. Red text denotes current thoughts & notes.
Hot & Humid With a Chance of Fire!
The Soldier who was injured during the IED attack, SPC Chasen, received a Purple Heart, and was returned to the United States. From what I heard, he got a piece of shrapnel in the back of his upper thigh - think Forrest Gump!
At the time of the Recovery Mission, we had not been issued the new Interceptor Vests w/ Armor Plating. We went out on the mission with the Vietnam-era vests, no protective plates.
It was very warm that day. We rehearsed our actions on the objective several times, starting at 0700 that morning, and left the LSA around 1300.
It was very hot and humid at the objective. By the time we left, my weapon was so hot in my hands that I just about wanted to hand it off to some of the Iraqis observing us. There were some homes in the area, and of course, all the residents came out to watch our actions.
We were unsure if during the first mission, someone in the area had tipped off the enemy on Alpha Company’s presence, which then led to the original attack. So, there was a thought that our presence could be tipped off again. Therefore, we wanted to spend the smallest amount of time at the objective as possible.
On the way out, which due to the area was the same way we came in, there were a couple of men standing along the side of the road. They were burning some dry grass or leaves, and for some reason, the fire was spread in a line half way across the road (a very narrow road). As we went out, the vehicles were in the opposite order of march, so I was near the tail. The lead vehicle radioed back about the situation. As we approached, I switched my M-16 from safe to semi, keeping the weapon pointed down towards their feet, at the ready. My eyes followed them completely as we drove by. I am not sure why they were burning in this manner, but if they had even flinched wrong, we would have been exchanging more than glances.
I am actually surprised that the enemy burnt the vehicle, when they could have very easily just stolen it, using it on a farm, or a worse attack. As the Maintenance Platoon Leader, this was about the most exciting thing I have been able to do here, other than leading the main HSC (Headquarters Support Company) convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad. If you want some really good stories, you should get in touch with 1LT Brad Lavite, who was transferred from the 245th (Maintenance Company) into a Transportation Company. He should be headed back to the U.S. in April (2004).
That day, as I rode in the front passenger seat of the HMMWV, I was sitting sideways, facing out. No doors, no plates; just that Vietnam-era vest with a seat belt holding me in. We didn't have up-armored vehicles, and the original doors were no thicker than plastic wrap. They held the heat in, but little out. It's always better to have physical protection in those types of situations, but honestly I preferred having full range of movement from the door opening. Call it naivete, but being in Iraq during that period didn't create blame in me towards anyone else for what was lacking. Instead, it made me more aware that I needed to rely on God for safety and protection. Many people, including me, prayed Psalms 91 during that time...here are some of my favorite verses:
v2: This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him.
v4: He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
v11: For He will order His angels to protect you wherever you go.
v14-16: The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on Me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them My salvation."
I'm humble enough to know, despite those prayers, I still could have lost my life at anytime in Iraq. I do not pretend to understand why God allowed me to make it home unscathed. He is my God and I trust Him.
On this day, the seventh anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I would be remiss to not remember those who did give the ultimate sacrifice and in memory of them simply say:
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3 weeks ago