Overall, I have spent over 34 months operating in what would be deemed a combat zone. Whether it be Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and others, I have come to the same conclusion. No matter the appearance or the tactics, when someone is trying to take your life it all blends together to one scene.
There are always supersonic decisions being made under frenzied situations by leaders who do their best to live up to a certain standard. A standard that is quite definitive across the spectrum of military branches. That is to do the very best, of their ability, to bring home all, or as many as possible, of the men and women of their charge.
This challenge, whether in triumph or failure, is one that haunts them throughout their lifetime. This alone can cause many great warriors to doubt themselves during challenging times, feeling as though they are failing their mission. Add that on top of financial, marital, and family problems, the unthinkable becomes a reasonable scapegoat. This is why we must always continue to support, defend, and understand even when it becomes a burden.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.
It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.” (National Institute Of Mental Health)
Before We Start
Before we start with the short story The Convoy, I wanted to showcase a few examples of actual events captured during my first deployment. Certain information will be redacted for security reasons.
Before reading this next passage, it is important to understand that ALL of this occured on one day, in April. When a person is overseas for roughly 210 days, with each day being a little bit different but similar to the passage below, it can become overwhelming.
“Weapons 1 reports being hit by an Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device in the vicinity of CP 39. No casualties to report at this time, the Improvised Explosive Device was located in the median of the road. The Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device detonated on the second vehicle, on the right side. The Suicide Vehicle approached the convoy from the south, moving north along Khandari Market St (Grid Redacted). When the convoy passed Market St, the vehicle moved over to the side of the road and as Wpns 1 was passing the vehicle pulled out after the first vehicle passed and detonated directly adjacent to vehicle 2. At about the same time the vehicle exploded, Wpns 1 began to take fire south of their position. The point of origin was south of Kilo 3 X-RAY. Wpns 1 could not see where the fire was coming from, they could only see muzzle flashes. Wpns 1 reported (2) Friendly Wounded In Action, and minimal damage to the vehicle.
Weapons 3 discovered a brown bag that contained an Improvised Explosive Device at (Grid Redacted). The bag was located on the shoulder of the southern edge of the Eastbound lane of MSR Michigan. The patrol set a cordon around the Improvised Explosive Device and awaited EOD, who rendered the Improvised Explosive Device safe. It was determined that the Improvised Explosive Device had consisted of (1) 105mm tank round.
Weapons 4 discovered an Improvised Explosive Device at (Grid Redacted) on MSR MICHIGAN, consisting of (1) 120mm mortar round in a burlap sack. The round was laid in a hole that had been previously used for an Improvised Explosive Device. Weapons 4 set a cordon, requested EOD and conducted a sweep for more Improvised Explosive Devices and the possible triggerman.”
The blackness surrounding Sergeant Jacobs was almost deafening. He had this feeling of angst, like reaching out within the dark vehicle would somehow result in injury. It was comparable to reaching under a wooden deck while fearing a strike from a deadly snake. His heart rate was rising, getting faster as they drove.
This was a normal feeling he felt when conducting convoy operations at night, using blacked out driving as their very own safety net. By not using white lights on their trucks, this gave them a distinct advantage, allowing the Marines to see the enemy long before they could see the Marines.
“Look at my tracers damn it!” came the abrupt shout from the gunner.
Lance Corporal Billings was suddenly laying down an effective burst of machine gun fire towards a positively identified enemy. Unfortunately there was this one issue, he was the only one who could see the threat ahead.
As soon as they turned right to head South from checkpoint 455 onto route Mobil, truck one immediately got smashed with green impacts. This was a prompt indicator that this was potentially enemy fire. If not going by the color of tracers, it was often hard to distinguish friend from foe in complete darkness.
All of the occupants within the vehicles were wearing Night Vision devices on their face, allowing them to continue their individual duties. Although the depth perception was a hard aspect to get used to, the Night Vision Goggles (NVG’s) gave them the advantage at night. Nonetheless, with the brilliance from the green impacts, this took the dominance away from the Marines.
The convoy was now under accurate fire from the fatal front, blinding the Marines in truck one and catching them off guard. The only person able to see the enemy and return immediate fire was the turret gunner, Billings. As he was employing his M240B, laying down a sustained rate of fire with 7.62×51mm NATO rounds, Billings was shouting at the other Marines in his vehicle.
“All you have to do is look at the impact area of my tracers! Once you focus in that area, you should see these guys trying to play!” he continued to shout.
Sergeant Jacobs was already on the radio handset, sending reports to the Company leadership. He was preparing them to send a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in case this began to turn into a full scale ambush. He focused on staying calm on the radio, speaking slowly and clearly to the radio watch, or the Marines who were handling all incoming transmissions at the Command Center.
“We are currently receiving well aimed automatic fire. Our location is on Route Mobil, with truck one just West of building JH505. The Area of Origin appears to be 6oo meters North of our position. Stand by for a further assessment, over.”
Now that Sergeant Jacobs had sent up his report, he was ready to begin employing his Marines and defeat the enemy fighters. His Vehicle Commanders were already employing their trucks, Jacobs just needed to get an overall assessment on his Marines and make minor corrections if needed. He quickly switched handsets, the one that spoke to all of his trucks in the convoy and not the Company.
“Truck Two, Three, and Four let’s move our vehicles and get into position. We need to figure out what exactly we are facing here, set a counter attack, and eliminate this a…..!” spoke Sergeant Jacobs until he was cut off.
From up ahead in the darkness, a sudden quick succession of small explosions filled the air, which could only mean one thing. As soon as Jacobs came to a conclusion of what just happened, Billings began to shout from the turret.
“Truck three just took a direct hit with an RPG!”
Jacobs could see smoke coming from the third vehicle slightly in front of them. As Sergeant Jacobs truck was taking the initial enemy fire, Corporal Emmerson, the Vehicle Commander from the third vehicle, had positioned his truck so his gunner could gain fire superiority.
For this to happen, truck three had to move to the right side of truck two and one, driving slightly off the road. This allowed truck two to continue allowing their turret gunner to watch the flanks, and truck four to secure the rear of the convoy. Emmerson could not tell his gunner to engage the fighters to the front without hitting vehicles one or two, so he told his driver to position their truck to the right, beside one.
Unfortunately, this put them directly in the path of an RPG team that was waiting for the right moment. Unfortunately for the Marines, they found it!
“Shit, Billings can you tell if anyone is hurt?” yelled Sergeant Jacobs.
This was an impossible task, there was no way Billings could know the answer to this question without jumping out of the turret and opening the door to truck three. Jacobs knew this, but he was torn between two decisions. One was to wait and see if they responded on their radio. Or two, tell Marines to dismount from the security of their trucks and go check on them.
The problem was, if they waited, hesitation gets Marines killed. If he tells Marines to get out of the armored vehicle and go check on truck three, there is a high probability he still gets Marines killed. The burden of leadership, not something they told him about as a young Marine aspiring to be in charge of others. Suddenly, the radio chirped to life.
“Truck three is good, we are good to go. The windshield took the blast, caved in but somehow it did not penetrate through. My driver is shaken up, but can still drive. We are gonna back up and try to get back in formation!”
A feeling of relief swept over Sergeant Jacobs. Not only was everyone okay in truck three, but now he doesn’t have to make that impossible choice of risking more lives. He needed to get this handled quickly and shut down this hasty ambush from the enemy fighters. His first thought was to out run it. Turn around and get the hell out of here.
“Swing around and push out of the kill zone. We have no idea what they have down this road and it’s too dark to try and figure it out. We need to get out of here before it gets out of hand!” Sergeant Jacobs yelled over the handset.
Jacobs looked out of his window to see how much room they had from the building off the road beside them. The enemy fighters had stopped shooting. They were likely getting ready to run off once their ammunition was gone. He also didn’t want to chance an Improvised Explosive Device further up the road. He assumed they were also trying to draw them forward, attempting to get them into another blast zone.
“There’s room, lets go. Flip them around. Four, you go now!” shouted Jacobs on the radio.
“Billings, see if four is flipping around!” Sergeant Jacobs yelled towards the turret.
“Yea, they are Sergeant. They have their back tires off the road right now, backing towards the building as close as they can so they can do it in one movement,” replied the gunner.
Suddenly, the darkness turned to day, followed by a large explosion. Jacobs felt the air shake, all of his senses numbed in an instant. He had no idea what had just happened. Had his truck just been hit by an RPG? Were they sitting on an Improvised Explosive Device and it had just gone off? He couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate on the questions.
“Four is hit, shit they are hit. It was big!” came a shout from Billings above.
Jacobs froze, hearing the horrible news from his turret gunner. Staring blankly ahead, not saying a word. The world was quiet, no sounds at all. The darkness was back, fully engulfing Jacobs and his thoughts. Quicksand like darkness, like his head was wrapped tightly stifling his breathing. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think, nothing could occur at this very moment. Until he heard the screams.
Corporal Emmerson’s head was pounding. The explosion hit truck four and rocked his own truck since they were so close together while spinning around. He reached backwards and up towards the turret, smacking the leg of his gunner. If Emmerson was feeling like this, he knew his gunner was hurting. The gunner’s upper torso was fully exposed, nothing between him and the explosion.
He felt movement in the gunners leg, at least it was a sign.
Suddenly, the gunner sat down inside the truck, holding his head.
“I’m good Corporal, it was just loud, unexpected.”
“Alright bro, thank God. Get back up in the turett.” “Jackson, Raines, get ready to dismount, we got to go help four out.” Looking towards his driver, he handed him the handset to the convoy. “Hold this bro, shout if you need me. One, two, three…go go go.”
Emmerson opened his door and jumped out of the humvee. Muscle memory made him quickly turn around and shut the door behind him. He didn’t want an RPG to get through the open door and kill his gunner and driver. The two dismounts did the same thing, a small but simple proud moment for Emmerson. He turned towards truck four, or what used to be truck four. Now it looked like a matchbox car that had been hit with a hammer multiple times.
While looking at the truck from the outside in, the mangled mess that laid in front of the Marines would likely scar a few of them. Where armor used to be a desert tan color, now was black and charred. Bent and fragmented, no longer smooth on the outside. It appeared to be smaller, much smaller than the original frame. This was frightening as it meant the space had shrank for the Marines inside.
Slowly stepping one foot in front of the other, they began to walk towards the truck, keeping their eyes on the road looking for wires or pressure plates. They didn’t want another Improvised Explosive Device to go off while they were outside of their armored vehicles. Within fifteen seconds, they were beside the truck. It wasn’t on fire, but it was in rough shape. They could hear someone screaming inside, they picked up the pace.
Abruptly, the rear driver side door opened up, with a Marine stepping out slowly.
“You good man?” shouted Emmerson.
“Yea bro, I’m good,” came the reply.
Another Marine crawled out the same door, appearing to be the gunner. Emmerson had no idea how he had lived through that, though he was grateful. Emmerson grabbed the door of the vehicle commander, pulling as hard as he could. The door finally gave, opening all the way. The Marine looked at Emmerson and gave him a thumbs up, indicating he was alright. There was still screaming though.
The rear door on the passenger side was destroyed, no way of getting it opened from its current position.
“Go to the other side and get the dismount!” yelled Emmerson.
They quickly ran around the other side of the truck and climbed in. The screaming intensified, they must have got to him and was trying to move him. Finally, they got the dismount out of the vehicle through the open door on the other side of the truck. Emmerson walked over to look the Marine over. With it still being dark out, they couldn’t see very well, but they also didn’t want to draw more attention to themselves.
Emmerson began to lightly feel the Marines extremities, feeling a wet substance when he got to the dismounts left leg. He could feel the warm blood, with the lower half of his leg barely still attached. They needed to get a tourniquet on him quickly, before the dismount bled out.
“He’s hit, we gotta get him patched up and get a medevac in route. Where the hell is Sergeant Jacobs?” asked Emmerson.
“Prepare him to move damn it. This is why we need to have a Corpsman in our convoy at all times!”
Emmerson jogged towards truck one, having complete disregard for his own safety at this point. Once he arrived at the section leaders door, he grabbed the handle and jerked it open. As soon as it was fully open, Emmerson could see a troubling result. The Sergeant appeared to be in a daze, not calling the leadership for assistance, not providing situation reports or anything.
Corporal Emmerson had heard stories like this before. Leaders not being able to handle multiple hazards at once, freezing up from shock. He had known Sergeant Jacobs for some time now, at least two years. He was as tough as they came, always looking out for his Marines and ensuring their well-being. Seeing him like this almost scared Emmerson.
“Sergeant, we need a medevac, we have a Marine hit in truck four,” Emmerson spoke to Jacobs, trying to stir him awake. “He is hit pretty bad in his left leg. We need to do this pretty quick.”
Jacobs jumped out of his frozen stance, like he was shaken awake from the Corporal. He looked around and stared out of his open door. His head quickly flooded with information, forcing him to react. The first thing he did was grab the radio handset to the company COC.
“Lightning, this is Two-Charlie. We just had truck four struck with an Improvised Explosive Device. We have one wounded, stand by for nine-line, over.”
Emmerson, feeling pretty good about the situation now, turned to walk back towards truck four. That’s when the darkness turned green again.
Green tracers were everywhere, filling the air with more chaos and causing the Marines to sink lower in their positions. The fighters were back, only now the Marines couldn’t move since truck four was inoperable. They needed Sergeant Jacobs to tell them what to do, to get them out of this situation.
“Lightning, this is Two-Charlie, stand-by for nine line,” Sergeant Jacobs spoke over the radio handset.
“Line 1 – GRG JH505.”
“Line 2 – Two-Charlie, this freq.”
“Line 3 – 1 Urgent-Surgical”
“Line 4 – None”
“Break,” said Jacobs as he gave the COC time to catch up, pausing and unkeying the handset.
“Line 5 – L1.”
“Line 6 – 1 leg wound, severed.”
“Line 7 – Pyrotechnic Signal.”
“Line 8 – U.S. Military.”
“Line 9 – None., over.”
Now that Jacobs took the information from his Marines and had the nine line sent up to the company, he needed to prepare for the UH-60 to come grab his Marine. The first thing was to identify a landing zone safe enough for the Medevac to land from the terrain, while also being as secure as they could possibly make it for the crew. Jacobs was hoping the pilot wouldn’t back out, with an already established hot LZ.
Still sitting in his truck, he could barely think. All three of his remaining trucks were returning fire from their turrets. This consisted of two M2 Browning .50 Caliber Machine Guns and an M240B 7.62 Machine Gun. Truck four had a MK-19 Grenade Launcher mounted, but it had become destroyed in the blast, or at least they thought so. It was still too dark to locate the weapon system and it was no longer in the mangled turret.
Sergeant Jacobs closed his eyes, still sitting in the front seat of his truck. He needed to figure out what was happening around him, understand the situation, and get a plan in place. Any quick reaction force that was being sent out was still at least forty five minutes away, so he needed to settle in. He began to gather an assessment.
Taking a deep breath in, he began to gather an understanding
[Truck four is destroyed, with one Marine Wounded In Action. That truck had four total Marines, who are now huddled in between truck two and three. Truck two personnel are already applying a bandage to the injured Marine. There is no way to tell how many enemy combatants are around them, but they have to assume the worse case scenario. A hasty defense is no longer an option, resulting in the need of a deliberate action. Check for air on station, identify hazards, and ensure the well-being of all Marines in the convoy.]
Sergeant Jacobs was ready to take the next action. He grabbed the handset to the convoy radio, keying it immediately in order to pass word to the Vehicle Commanders.
“Here is what we are about to do hot shots. We are going to set up a deliberate defensive position so we can wait for the recovery vehicle to get here. We need identified avenues of approach, with sufficient automatic fire identified and placed. Leaders, take charge and get your Marines set. This is going to be a long wait.”
Sergeant Jacobs knew his Marines were getting frustrated, being forced to stay down and pray for survival. He had a job to do, he needed to gain an upper hand over their adversaries and turn this thing around, put the ball in their court.
Sergeant Jacobs started to come up with a plan.
“Two-Charlie, this is Pan-Pan, we are coming in from the South heading towards your current location. Our estimated time of arrival is six minutes…over.”
Sergeant Jacobs heard the transmission come over the company frequency. The Medevac was in route, only six minutes out. The time to act was now.
“Pan-Pan, read you loud and clear, copy all. We will pop smoke in five mikes, understand we are taking small arms fire around LZ. We will have a defensive perimeter set, ready on you.”
“Armed Falcon, this is Two Charlie, ready for a show. We have a six minute window, ready for yours in five. Please approach from the North to the South, with a break to the West upon our position. Be advised that Pan-Pan will be arriving from the South in six mikes, how copy?”
Sergeant Jacobs had asked the company to get the Air Traffic Control Officer on station and work out some support. Jacobs knew that the the Medevac Helicopter had limited protective capabilities and often were timid with hot Landing Zones.
Jacobs also knew that his Marine needed to get out of here as quickly as possible if he wanted to live.
Additionally, he also knew that if they couldn’t gain fire superiority and slow down this rapid advancement of enemy fire on their position, more lives were going to be lost. This thought process led Sergeant Jacobs to call the Air Traffic Control Officer and request a show of force.
In return, the company somehow managed to get two Boeing AH-64 Apaches on station and sent towards Jacobs and his crew. This was a blessing, having an American twin turboshaft attack helicopter. Actually, two of them.
The plan was for Armed Falcon to fly over their position high enough for them not to take any direct fire, but to show the enemy they were there. This usually consisted of a large amount of flares to be fired, allowing the enemy to see that they are not alone.
The other hard aspect to this entire situation was timing this just right so a few things could play out in sequence. Sixty seconds before the Medevac bird was due to come in, Jacobs wanted the Apaches to conduct a show of force and get the enemy’s head down.
Once that occured, Sergeant Jacobs wanted his Marines to employ their automatic weapons, with their dismounts providing accurate fire on enemy positions. They would hopefully establish fire superiority over the enemy at the thirty second mark prior to the Medevac arrival.
This in turn would allow the Marines to establish dominance and allow the Medevac to hopefully come in unscathed, resulting in the effective evacuation of his injured Marine.
“Two-Charlie, this is Armed Falcon. Coming in from the North now, stand by for you SOF…over.”
“Armed Falcon, Two Charlie. Copy all, standing by.”
Sergeant Jacobs picked up the radio handset that talked to his other trucks, with intentions to prep the other vehicles.
“All vehicles, stand-by for our air support. We need to be quick on this, so ensure your gunners are ready.”
Jacobs thought he could hear an aircraft above at this point, but it was hard to differentiate between that and the enemy fire they were receiving.
Suddenly, the air above ignited, with multiple illuminated fireballs shooting in all directions. The Show of Force was happening now, Jacobs looked at his watch for the time.
There was a lull in the enemy fire, Sergeant Jacobs hoped his Vehicle Commanders had their gunners ready.
“Pan-Pan, SOF complete. We are establishing security around the LZ. Ready for your arrival.”
“Copy all Two-Charlie.”
For the first time of the night, Sergeant Jacobs stepped out of his truck and onto the street. The sound of gunfire had filled the air again, he just needed to see if the tracers were green or red. As he stepped out of the truck and shut the door behind him, he looked to the North. The night turned red, showing Jacobs his boys were laying down heavy fire.
One of his Vehicle Commanders had established an LZ on the other side of the structure that was to the East of his truck. He could see the Medevac in the distance, it was about to drop in and pick up his Marine.
“Sergeant! The Company is on the hook, they are asking for you!” shouted his driver. Jacobs turned around and jogged back to his truck. He trusted his Vehicle Commander to handle the Medevac, he needed to see what they needed back at camp.
“This is Two-Charlie Actual, go ahead with your traffic.”
“Two-Charlie, this is lightning. Be advised, your recovery vehicle was struck by an IED en route. No other trucks in the AO to come recover your vehicle. Two-Bravo is ten mikes from your position. Put your extra bodies in their vehicles and RTB.”
Not what Jacobs wanted to hear, he was waiting for that wrecker for the last thirty minutes. He could have easily thrown the extra Marines in his truck, he was just waiting for the wrecker to get the destroyed vehicle back to base.
“Roger Lighting, copy all.”
“All Vics, Two-Bravo in route, will be here momentarily. Get ready to move out of here. Get the extra Marines from Truck four in the vehicles and in their convoy. Two, figure out what to do with that destroyed truck.”
Jacobs stepped back out of his truck, seeing the Medevac bird go gaining elevation. His Marines that had set the LZ ran around the corner, giving him a thumbs up. Jacobs had no idea how much time had gone by during this whole evolution, but suddenly it was as if the sun was rising. Daylight was appearing, giving the Marines more visibility. Jacobs grabbed his NVG’s and threw them in his truck.
“Emmerson, come here!” yelled Jacobs. He had an idea, ready
“What’s up Sergeant?” ask Emmerson as he jogged over.
“I want you to grab two tow straps from the the trucks, and hook yours up to the damaged one. We are just gonna pull that thing back. It’s daylight, we have everyone accounted for, and Two-Bravo will be here any second now. When they pull in with their trucks and more firepower, I want to be ready to pull that thing out and fall in on their convo.”
“Roger, I’ll get it done,” replied Emmerson.
For the first time during this mission, Jacobs was feeling some relief. He was ready to get back and be done with all of this. As long as they can get that truck out of here, they should have no issues with a seven gun truck convoy going back to base.
Jacobs looked over at Emmerson and his crew. He had already pulled out the tow straps and had them hooked to the damaged truck. He must have found a good spot to wrap them, because he was already directing his own truck to get aligned.
“No, go forward and straighten it up. We are going to have to pull out and to the right, and this thing is going to be tough to get going,” shouted Emmerson to his driver.
“Look, follow me.”
Emmerson quickly ran in front of his truck, banging on the hood twice as he ran twice. He turned around and faced his driver, walking backwards and motioning for the truck to follow him. He was in a dangerous spot, putting himself out in the open to get this done.
“Come on, keep coming!”
Waving his arms, the truck pulled off the road and crept closer to Emmerson.
“A little more, almost there,” shouted Emmerson.
Abruptly, the air filled with a noise that they had heard all too much. Smoke and dust filled every crevice of the surrounding Marines and their vehicles. Emmerson and his truck were engulfed in an explosion from underneath the front of the truck. Sergeant Jacobs stared down the street in shock, watching his Marines disappear in an instant.
Frank Jacobs opened his eyes, back in the deafening darkness. He was completely drenched with sweat, his heart beating from anxiety. He rubbed the tears out of his eyes, focusing on trying to calm down and slow his heart rate. He slowly turned his head, looking over at the alarm clock beside his bed which said 4:55 am, like it did every morning. Today marked 562 days after the dreadful morning of The Convoy.