Everyday is a Blessing

“I don’t want to die here,” are the words that I told myself in the fall of 2007.

In the summer of 2007, my unit was on a year-long deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom when we got word that our combat deployment would be extended three more months.

We were totaling 15 months on the deployment.

Looking back, in the summer of 2007, my platoon would be moving to the Diyala Province, which is North of Baghdad, Iraq.

Our mission would be to support the Iraqi Security Forces (i.e., Iraqi Police) in Baquba, Iraq, a big city in the province, to thwart terrorist attacks and capture or kill insurgents. Basically, work with Iraqi Police to get them trained and ready to assume responsibility for their country.

These insurgents (majority) were foreign fighters coming into Iraq from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other countries to kill American Soldiers and coalition soldiers. The Iranians were bringing EFPs (Explosive Formed Projectiles), a special type of shaped charge designed to penetrate armor effectively from a much greater standoff range than the standard-shaped charges.

Our unit had already taken casualties, in which the 2nd Platoon lost Michael Garagus and the 1st Platoon lost Sergeant Paul Sanchez, including several other injured.

My platoon hadn’t lost anyone; moving to the Diyala Province would be a true test.

I was not worried; I was straight terrified.

These EFPs were dangerous, and there was no stopping them from doing the kind of damage that would rip a person apart. If the bomb went off, you would lose a leg, arm, or your life. This was nasty stuff.

However, as a Platoon Sergeant leading 43 Soldiers, I would have to put my fears aside. I had Soldiers, Brothers, Fathers, Dads, Mothers, and Daughters, who depended on me to make sound, timely, good decisions as a Leader. I highlight leader because it is a huge responsibility that most people will NEVER understand. Yet, the only people who would understand is a parent. Telling a leader not to worry is the same as telling a parent whose kid is supposed to be home a 10:00 p.m. and its going on 11:00 p.m.

When we arrived at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, we were received with a memorial service. The unit we would be replacing had just lost 4 Soldiers (1 killed in action and three seriously wounded).

Yet, I had to settle my platoon and start planning our missions with my platoon leader.

Moving Forward,

One mission would last four days. This mission would be a test where our resolve and ability to work through the heat, dangers, threats, confusion, adversity, and fears would be strained. I only slept three hours (maybe) during those four days. I remember seeing things, weird things during those days. It’s not good to go without sleep.

Our mission was to bring captured insurgents (Al-Qaeda Terrorist) inside the city of Baquba, Iraq, to a detainee holding area to FOB Warhorse. The Special Operations Forces and other U.S. military units would capture/kill these insurgents. We would essentially bring them (captured bad guys) back to the FOB Warhorse, where we had set up a detain holding area.

On one of the days, I was working with a Navy Master at Arms (job in the U.S. Navy) and a JAG lawyer on FOB Warhorse trying to get the detainees that were captured processed into the U.S. military’s detainee system; when the Navy guy (Navy Master at Arms) said that our paperwork was “screwed up” and “all wrong.” I was confused and did not know what to do or what to say, so I told the guy that he would have to come out on a mission with us. Then, the paperwork would be right.

He changed his attitude, saying, “The paperwork can be fixed.”  Interesting!!

We completed our mission with no casualties that summer in 2007. God was with us.

My platoon moved to a new location where we would not be so fortunate.

In the fall of 2007, at an Iraqi Police Station and what was known as a Joint Operations Center (JOC) in another location in Northern Iraq, my platoon was conducting operations with Iraqi Security Forces. After one mission, I was in a back office at the Iraqi Police station, sitting on a desk with one leg on the floor and the other leg lifted, talking to my Interpreter Junior, when I heard a small boom (what sounded like an explosion).

Everything went Black, and the next thing I knew, I woke up lying on the desk. I don’t know how long I was out. But the room was filled with dirt because 150 – 200 sandbags were in the picture window, and those sandbags were gone. The blast ripped those sandbags apart. I ran upstairs to see if everyone in my platoon was okay.

My platoon was okay. We were okay. We survived a 200-pound blast; essentially, that’s what the Explosives Team estimated the amount of explosives, which is based on the crater left by the blast. The bad guys (insurgence) where trying their hardest to destroy that Iraqi Police station.

Our operations would continue for the next few months.

I had several soldiers injured from attacks with improvised explosive devices while conducting combat operations in the area of Iraq. I tried my best to mitigate the risk. However, one of my Soldiers would take Shrapnel (fragments of a bomb, shell, or other object thrown out by an explosion) to his face. That continues to haunt me to this day. It seemed as if it would never end, and the world was coming to an ending. It was only a matter of time before I would be killed or severely injured.

I remember telling myself, “I don’t want to die here.”

The memories are like a bad dream. People trying their hardest to kill you – they try, and you try to kill them. It never ends.

Do you believe every day is a blessing?

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