Bottom Line Up Front: Yes, I shot myself during a chaotic situation. Even with this mistakable scenario and how it played out, it’s still worth me laying out the foundation on how this happened, while also showcasing the WIFM (What’s In It For Me) for other readers to learn from. For those that follow my work, you already know I have no shame in sharing for others, no matter how bad it may make me look (For instance, read From One Battle To Another, a piece I wrote with “The War Horse”).
This is why I write. To share my stories and start collaboration. To communicate. To inspire others to open up with someone else instead of bottling it up for future turmoil. All in all, the “lets chat” may save someones life, maybe even yours!
Let’s talk about what led up to this point. It’s 2011, after receiving orders to a new Battalion as a Sergeant (E-5) Machine Gunner and we are scheduled to go to Afghanistan for a regular deployment. After a normal workup, months of preparation, we have finally arrived to our COP in Marjah. Long story short, I was aligned and prepared to work in the COC as a Watch Chief since I was the senior Machine Gunner. However, the stars changed and we had unexpectedly gained eight Humvee’s with no mobile work up or training.
What came from this? Well, I was part of that plan. The command knew I had already done three deployments as a turret gunner in Iraq, so I took four of those trucks and grabbed any extra Marines I could to make up a mobile section to operate throughout the AO. As most of you can tell, this was a daunting task. To make matters worse, the only drivers that were licensed were machine gunners. So basically, all of my gunners were drivers, and I had mortar-men on the machine guns in the turrets.
Out of the thick darkness, the sky illuminated with brights lights and tracers. The COP we were at was being attacked. I was tasked with immediately taking my section of four trucks and attempt to break up the attack and pursue the enemy. After mounting up my warriors, we sped down the route to see what kind of mess we could get ourselves in. Immediately after turning down the road we expected the enemy to be settled down at, we took fire to our front and rear vehicles.
I just happened to be in the last vehicle for this evolution, so I yelled at my Marine in the turret to return fire. He had a MK-19, which is a 40mm Grenade Launcher capable of firing 390 grenades per minute. An obvious show stopper, something that could easily shut down this enemy attack. What ended up happening though, was those dreaded words “It’s not working”
Even after months of practice (this is month four of the deployment) the gunners were just not ready for something as intense as this. I spent countless hours on the COP practicing these young Marines, running them through drills, and mentoring them to increase better habits. Also, we had already been in numerous fights during this deployment, with the gunners performing quite well up to this point.
The concept that needs to be understood though, is no outcome can be fully predicted or planned for. Even with four months of work and practice, this attack was a new level of anxiety and fear for this young warrior.
At this point, we were still taking heavy impacts to the truck, with 80% of the rounds hitting the turret shield where the Marine was at on the MK-19. I had to make a decision, and fast. Without thinking, I grabbed his leg and pulled him straight down as hard as I could. With little resistance, he came right down out of the turret. I quickly scooted myself up in the turret and began corrective action on the weapon system.
I have had this happen before, in Ramadi in 2006, where the MK-19 would become nonfunctional. I actually received my first Navy Achievement Medal with Valor for fixing one while under fire, resulting in me returning fire and destroying the enemy position.
This is exactly what I had envisioned in my mind on this night as well. Jump up there, fix the weapon, and stop this nonsense. As hard as I tried, I could not get this to actually happen though. The secondary drive lever wouldn’t stay put, the vertical cam assembly was being a pain, and the rounds impacting the turret were horrendous.
A decision needed to be made, so I made one.
While I should have used a grenade since the fighter was behind a wall (this came from the COC, they were watching the entire thing go down on camera), I did not think of that action at the time. Instead, I picked up my M4 and hammered down an entire magazine at the person shooting at our truck. The firing stopped, so I reloaded a new magazine and shouted for my Marines to get back in the trucks, we were going to push forward and get out of the “Kill Zone”.
As they started climbing in the trucks, I started firing my next magazine at the edge of the wall to ensure the firing didn’t start back when they were getting in the trucks. That’s when it hit me, hard, in the left shoulder! Hard enough that I fell inside the truck and my Marines checked me for bleeding. My shoulder hurt, but there was no blood. I had no idea what had happened, other than thinking I had just been shot, but without blood.
Hours later, after staging our vehicles and ensuring the COP was no longer under a threat of an attack, we returned to base. After taking off my shirt, I noticed the large bruise on my shoulder. Also, there was a back to my chevron (we worn them on our outside arms with the Frog gear) inside my arm. Not deep, I was able to pull it out, but it hurt quite a bit. Enough for me to get checked out by Doc and make sure there was nothing else in there.
As I finished up with that, one of my Marines called me over and was showing me the turret. The shield was ate up, from the outside and the inside. Some were shocked by the amount of impacts that had hit it, but I immediately knew what the inside marks were from.
When you shoot over a wall, one must make sure that their optic isn’t the only part of their weapon with clearance. Just because the optic clears, doesn’t mean the muzzle does as well. I had put my entire second magazine into the inside of my turret, resulting in one of my rounds ricocheting back and hitting my in the shoulder, actually hitting me through the chevron and into my backing. I officially had hit myself with my own round, due to rushing my shots and not thinking of my clearance. I had shot myself!
Things are going to go wrong. You can prepare, practice, preach, anything you want, but wrong will occur. Was the decision to pull that Marine out of the turret the right one? Who knows. He is still alive, the attack stopped, minor injuries occurred, so questioning that is useless. I am a firm believer that making a decision is the hard part, judging yourself on whether it’s right or wrong can last a lifetime.
Did I prepare them enough? Likely not, there is always more one can do, better stress tests and ensuring more understanding. Again though, nothing I can change about that now. Maybe plan for more training for future operations.
What did I learn from this? Well, the answer isn’t always “Do it yourself.” Although I felt like I needed to be the one up there fixing the weapon, the end result didn’t include a machine gun. I still had to pick up my M4 and use that instead. Maybe if I had shouted to the Marine to use his own rifle, there may have been better results. Hard to tell. I will never question a past decision, but focus on future ones. Since then, I have tried to do more mentoring and guiding instead of the imitation phase.
Instead of the do as I do application, I have tried to take an approach that results in discussion and guiding young warriors through their own actions and decisions. Instead of future results of me hurting myself because me doing something is better than waiting on others, how about I focus more on the future warriors of tomorrow from lessons learned from the yesterdays.
What’s your take?