January 9, 2013

Combat Narratives Part 1

The soldiers of Delta Company, 6th battalion, 6th Infantry of the 1st Armored Division were sitting around the television in Bamberg, Germany. Rumors were going around that we would be called up and mobilized to go to Operation Desert Shield. The scrolling list of divisions being activated for deployment came down to ours, my heart sank. I was trembling and knew if an armored division was going that I would see combat. Feeding the rumors was our abrupt training from the boxy Vietnam era M119 armored personnel carries to new $2.5 million Bradley Fighting Vehicles. I was a Private First Class 11 Bravo with a brand new Expert Infantry Badge. The 11 Bravo's mission was running 5 miles one day and force march 7 miles with full ruck sacks the next, 6 days a week while the Bradley crews trained to drive, fight and command.
Dco 6th/6th Infantry, 1st AD
Late in the day our captain called us into the hallway outside his office and read the orders. It was then I decided to become a driver instead of the 11 Bravo dismounting and clearing trenches out the back of our Bradley. It was fun in training, but I didn't think it would be in combat. It turned out that our driver wasn't taking his job serious so I stepped up and asked to take his place. The next day I was sitting in the driver's seat familiarizing myself with the controls. I caught on pretty quick except for the steering was tricky, you have to give it gas to turn and the brakes consists of letting off the gas pedal. We went out everyday to train on a two-week threshold till we had to load up our vehicles to ship them out, I didn't receive the 3 months of training everyone else did.

In two weeks I learned how to drive my Bradley Fighting Vehicle before we loaded them up at the rail yard. During a late night training mission in Germany, around one am it was cold and wet with a heavy mist in the air. We were convoying on a narrow 16 feet wide road with our 14 foot wide Bradleys when we came upon narrow road on a sheer cliff. Turning is also transmission driven, to make it work you must hit the gas pedal. The more you turn the more power needed. I let off the throttle and the rubber padded tracks began to slide toward the edge, as I was peering down the cliff I punched the gas pedal just as the road disappeared underneigh us left turning as hard as I could. We stopped sliding and turned with only a half a track left on the road. The guys in the back never knew they were almost part of a training fatality.
Our Bradley and Crew
We sat on our asses for two weeks when I arrived in the sandy lands of King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia. The warehouse we were bunking in was setup for soldiers awaiting vehicles to come into port. I found out later that the same building we were in was hit by a scud missile two weeks after we left, killing a couple of National Guardsmen. After our vehicles came in we had them painted in desert camouflage. Then we lined up to load up on missiles, 25mm armored piercing sabot rounds along with high explosives rounds, 7.62mm and 5.56mm ammo and grenades. We made all our checks and topped off on fuel and moved out to our base to set up.

Our company set up our first base camp in a low-lying area. By the time we finished setting up the tents, it started to rain. I had last guard duty, so I hit my cot. When I woke we were in 2 feet of water and someone was telling me to get out of bed we were moving out. A little lake had filled in so we packed everything up again and moved out to another base. After setting up our second base, we got into mission mode. We started training for offensive maneuvers immediately, in Germany we trained on defensive. Once in training maneuvers we received orders to retreat. I started turning my vehicle in a tight turn and threw our track in the sand. It took us about 4 hours to put the track back on, I would not make that mistake again. We trained on and around our base for about three and half months with the bombing of Baghdad in the background day and night. I still hear the boom, boom, boom, boom; just like yesterday.

Earlier in the week we received reports the Iraqi suicide bombers were dressing as Bedouins with captured military equipment. While on guard duty one night we spotted a slanted box on tracks, an M119 armored personnel carrier about the penetrate our perimeter  The M119 keeps coming. We try to radio him, no answer. The vehicle on our left fires a warning shot, it keeps coming. We radio again and fire a second warning shot. The vehicle breaches our perimeter as we dismount and surround it. By all rights of war we should have killed this vehicle, but out pops a second lieutenant out of his hatch. It was a tense moment. Private Roman and another of our great sergeants lead our opposing force with fingers on triggers of our M16s, our barbed wire caught up in his tracks. He was on the wrong radio frequency and didn't know the password, so we held him until higher up said it was okay to let him go.

Base camp life was pulling guard duty four hours on and four hours off, write letters and train for offensive maneuvers  One day during maneuvers we got the word to move out, I gunned it and blew the motor. So we spent the rest of the day helping the mechanics put in a new motor and transmission. It was a nice break in our regimen and I found out how much the motor can take in the sand and that would come in handy later in combat. We were getting close to moving out, Christmas had come and gone. I got to call home around that time. I was ready to go, it was February when we bugged out toward Iraq. The bombing of Baghdad everyday and night was wearing on me, all I could think about was how many people our bombs were killing. I was ready to go when we mounted up and headed into Iraq.

I was an Infantry soldier driving on point for the 3rd Brigade, my job was to lead our M1A1 Abrams Tanks into combat. Broiling inside my body armor and a full body zip up fire-retardant suit, covered by an olive drab chemical warfare suit commonly used in Germany during the winter. It was one hundred and ten degrees outside and 160 degrees inside the belly of my Bradley sitting next to a 600 HP Cummings turbo-charged diesel engine and separated by a 3/16” steel plate; with a ledge perfect to cook my Meals Ready to Eat. Sipping water became a survival skill and the only way to make your alloted three quarts a day last. During training missions I got in the habit of leaving my hatch open due to the heat and fought with my track commander to have it open until combat operations.

On or around February 22, 1991 we had reports of regular infantry soldiers in Saddam’s army surrendering in droves. The following day we saw thousands of people scattered in the shimmering heat surrendering some with weapons milling about lost in and billowing sandy red tinted sky as our tracks rolled by. At home in Kentucky we have rolling hills and trees everywhere so my sense of the horizon broadened tenfold when nothing stood in the way of belly of the desert. Our assignment was to get online with the rest of the VII Corps on the Iraqi border to cut off the Iraqi Republican Guard from retreating. We set out in convoy toward the front line. That night we received an after-action report, five Marines killed when a Stryker came across an enemy T-72 tank with its turret turned around. Geneva Convention Rule of War for surrender. When the marines encroached enough they turned their barrels around and killed our five Marines. I was shaking all over, mad as hell and wanted revenge.

After 24 hours of continuous driving we convoyed down through a wadi, a low-lying basin perfect for a desert ambush when I saw swimming silhouettes of people and jeeps on our left flank night sky. I reported to my Track Commander Sergeant Dan Tickle, small in stature but great at command. I hated him in garrison but loved him in the field, I would have given my life for him if I didn't kill him first. The Ground War had not been officially set off yet, so we had to get permission to fire upon an advancing enemy. They kept coming, higher up ordered our company online and our command vehicle fired three warning shots, boom, boom, boom. Then death squeezed from the gunner's fingertips with 25mm automatic fire boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. The next day our after action reported we had killed 30 Iraqis trying to surrender. The silhouettes on the horizon have haunted my sights and nights since.


  1. Haunting account! This is a great point of view from what seems to be this generation's "great forgotten war". I pray and hope that telling your story will give others the courage to speak and heal about their past experiences in the military.


    1. Thank you Nella, I appreciate your support over the last couple of years. It helps to know that people are reading and feeling the impact of my words. My generations forgotten war, that sounds about right.


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