by a Combat Veteran
Ramadi, Iraq, 2011
Just relieved from shift rotation, I was finally able to lay down and get back to my daily routine of binge-watching old episodes of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The firebase we built was managed by a 16-man team. The closest FOB was roughly a 20-minute drive away. Suddenly, the door to the connex was violently kicked open. I initially thought this was another successful “raid” by our teammates in the famous section rivalries when our Platoon Sergeant came in with an expression on his face that I had never seen on a man before. I liken it to the moment in a game of poker when you realize your opponent has called your bluff.
“You guys, get the fuck up! We got 30-50 dudes sweeping our right flank less than 100 yards east side.” The east side? I thought. That’s our dead space. How did they get that close without higher tracking? All the ambushes and battles I read about as a young boy flooded my mind. The firebase had direct fire capability with two 105 mm howitzers, one 0.50 cal, and crew-served weapons. I rushed to the east side of the firebase – grabbing an M-240B, 3 cans of ammo, and my radio along the way.
I got caught flat-footed. I was all eaten up. Our Fire Direction Center was sending down a fire mission and the QRF was in motion. I kept thinking, how the hell did they get within 100 yards? Looking for some type of cover or concealment, I found a lone boulder roughly 30 yards from the Hesco we had erected. Setting up my 240B, I felt the presence of someone rushing up behind me. It was my teammate. Covered in sweat – with his ACH leaned over one side of his face, chin strap undone, and helmet cocked – he looked like a World War 2 soldier. He had a funny grin on his face as he did somewhat of a baseball-style slide into me. We exchanged a few curse words and had a quick laugh.
“Dude, what are you doing here?” I asked him. “I picked a bad spot. Head back over, man. I got this.”
He looked at me with a refreshing smile, and as he settled into a comfortable position, he said “I’m not going to leave you, buddy.” He pulled a can of Skoal mint out of his pocket, chucked it over to me, and gave me a fist bump.
Looking back ten years later, I have additional clarity in understanding the significance of that moment. In one of the most austere times of my life, I was not alone. I will never forget my teammate’s words or the passion that he had for his fellow man and his country. He wasn’t going to fucking leave me. I don’t think I will ever feel that sense of warmth and comfort again.
I shared this story last year at his gravesite. And each year as I grow older, he remains unchanged – forever young – in my dreams.