Help and Luck. You never know what will work to your benefit or detriment when shit goes down. Lucky for us, I caught the glimpse of USAR armored coming up from the rear of our column. I broke the seal on the door and exited the vehicle, took a mental snapshot of the situation from the exterior and went to hail down the two MRAPs (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) that were in sight. Thank God they stopped for us which isn’t always the case.

I asked for help from their 1st Sergeant who was running their movement detail and he gave it. They contacted the local Iraqi friendly forces to come set a perimeter and their medic assisted me with tending to my gunner who was bleeding from his ears and eyes given he was exposed in the turret to the brissance related to the EFP blast. The Medic said that we needed to get our gunner to the CASH to be looked at as soon as possible. I said I was headed to FOB Warhorse and that I would there. He was in agreement that that would be the move.

The Iraqi Army forces got there quickly. Faster than I thought they would or could which made me suspicious as hell, but a helping hand is a helping hand. They posted a cordon as I thanked the USAR team before they departed. 

Realizing that all four of our up armored vehicles’ tires were blown out, I had the team set to doing four tire change outs; one at a time of course with security posted in overwatch. Amazingly, our vehicle was still running. I would take any win at this point. The vehicle took a solid set of hits on the front Driver’s side, but it looked like the EFP detonated early leaving only small shards of the molten directional explosive to hit it. Again, Luck like the enemy always gets a vote. If it had not detonated early, it is likely I would not be writing about this incident now. EFP’s  tend to melt and wrend their victims in grotesqueness as the molten brass projectiles do ungodly work on the unfortunate.

Regroup and Keep moving. We were on the ‘X’ way too long and it worried me. Pulling your shit together is never easy or done with smoothness or celerity, but we finally hit the road much to my driver’s protest. He was in shock and while he spoke english better than most it was hard getting through to him. The brissance did not break his body, it broke his will to keep going. It was clear to me that I would have to drive while keeping him engaged mentally so he did not lose his shit worse than he was.

I swapped places in the marching order from scout truck to lead truck and had my Iraqi 2IC dial in the next part of the move while I limped along our truck and my injured gunner and driver. My VHF comms were up so I could direct and lead as best I could while driving from that position. On the face of it, swapping positions was the best move we could make to keep our thirteen vehicle movement on course. My vehicle and assigned team members were essentially combat ineffective. The Scout truck has to take the leadership load on at least in position if not the role itself. I was still shaking hard from the blast, but had to fight through. Just because you are not 100% does not mean you quit. Lives were on the line. We were in the middle of a mission already ambushed and still exposed. I owned it and would not let my team or this mission fail on my watch. I had two men that needed medical attention as well as those empty wall lakers that had to make passage from Camp Taji to FOB Warhorse.

I could not believe this vehicle took this hit and kept moving, I had seen less damage make similar vehicles inoperable. I was counting my blessings when my 2IC came over the radio, “Sir, I am lost.”

FUCK Murphy. You find out quick two things operating in the Red Zone:

  1. It is all on you, all the time. Rescue and accomplishment rest on your shoulders. Lead.
  2. Never and I mean NEVER take a mental break when you are outside the perimeter.

You lose focus for a split second and it is an opportunity for things to go wrong all over again. You have to keep the mental gears engaged and be leading all the time. 

“Okay, take the next left,” I told him over the radio. Turning around is a last resort with a convoy. It is better to snake your way to your destination than it is to attempt turn-arounds with ten tractor trailers. The Routes we were on were both RED and BLACK at this point meaning if it was going to happen, shit was going to happen anyways. Be ready so you do not have to get ready. Prepare for changes, hurdles and third world drama. If you do not nurture a mentality that accepts challenges, you are in the wrong business. 

In truth, I had no fucking clue where we were exactly, my MDTS tracker and it’s mapping program that we all rely on was down so it was up to me, my instincts and my Mark1 Model ‘0’ eyeballs to get us to our objective- the front gate of FOB Warhorse, get direct medical help for the wounded and drop off this priceless cargo.

Forty minutes Later, there she was, finally – THE FRONT GATE.

Of Warhorses, Politics and Medicine. We clear the initial entry checkpoint and form up in the holding yard outside the main perimeter of FOB WARHORSE. I head over to the main guard tower outside the next entry control point and look up and yell at the tower guard that we were ambushed enroute to here and I have two walking casualties that need medical attention. He yelled back, “wait one.”

It seemed like forever, but the long silence broke. “Sir, I was told by higher up to tell you to seek medical attention at the local hospital just North of Sadr City.” He flatly instructed me.

I am not sure which boiled first. My blood or my indignation. I yelled back, “are you fucking kidding me?”

“NO.” He replied

I tore the American Flag velcro patch off my battle rattle with my right hand and waved it up at him and screamed, “I am an American. My men are Iraqi contractors all cleared and in possession of current Letters of Authorization (LOAs) for medical services and all other services for that matter.”

He could see I was fuming as my whole team looked on. This was no small matter for either of us. “The Base Medical staff had been instructed by their regional command to not take on any more local nationals for medical services.” the tower guard yelled down to me.

Now, I am in a real bind. My whole team whose sole mission has been to support Multi-National personnel in their own country is now denying them medical assistance after a straight up attack. If I do not pull this off. I will not make it back to the Red Zone Villa. Would you work for people who would not even care for your casualties? I would not.

I tried to calm down. I wanted to yell threats. I wanted to find the absent policy decision maker and wring his neck. I paused, looked up at the tower guard and frankly replied, “ Look. You see the guys behind me. This will go seriously bad for me if we do not unfuck this situation and get these men seen. Let those docs know they are setting me up to be their next patient if we do not manage this right. We all know what right looks like and wrong looks like. Let’s do the right thing here PLEASE.

Fifteen minutes pass. A fellow support team arrives from base and as they do the tower guard gets back to me and yells down, “get you and your two walking wounded and meet the entry team at the gate. You are clear to head over to the medical station via escort.

Thank God for some common sense being applied. 

My driver and gunner are seen by medical staff and given the all clear. Meanwhile, my on-base Client takes the shipment of lockers and the team preps for the road trip back to our Red Zone Villa. 

This is all in a day’s work. You never know what to expect. You just have to be ready, not get ready. It is really that simple.

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