The firebase I was stationed at was small. My JTAC and I were supporting a company-size element, and we became the first group of Americans to occupy that region and set camp. Four months into deployment, the base had finally received phones and Internet; we were still waiting for showers and better chow. People say that when they are about to die, their life flashes before their eyes. Mine did not – but then again, although I could have died, this was not to be the case. I suppose the reason my brain decided to go back and remember that conversation with my father at the airport was that immediately prior to the first rocket, I was talking to him over the phone. The conversation had been short. There was not too much to talk about as it was in the winter months and enemy activity had decreased. But my father heard the explosion of the first rocket, and without hesitation, I said to him, “Dad, I am OK. I have to go. I will call you when I can.” Following my words, I slammed the phone down, ran to my hooch, donned body armor and helmet, and headed to my truck.
Because I was not JTAC-qualified at the time, whenever we received indirect fire my sole purpose was to get on the radio and ask for aircraft for my JTAC to control. On this extremely small firebase, my hooch stood at one end of the base, and less than a hundred meters at the other end of the base, my truck sat next to the TOC. Running towards the truck, I stopped cold at the halfway point between my hooch and my truck at the sight of a yellow line whose whistling sound was getting louder. It was a second round that was heading directly at me. The chaos that the first round created suddenly ceased when the second one landed next to me. The energy that it produced upon impact knocked me on my ass. The round skipped after it hit the ground and missed me. I came back to it at the sound of my JTAC’s voice.
When he gave me a hand up, I was still shaken from the event. I did not get time to process what had just happened because I had a job to do. After the aircraft that I requested were on their way, he asked me at the truck if I was OK. I said yes, but before I could elaborate, the Company Commander was knocking at my window. I put down the heavy ballistic window and he asked, “You guys ready to roll?” The JTAC said, “Ready, Sir.” We were about to head out and take a look, hoping to find the assholes that had almost killed me and many others on the base. The Commander had no idea I had been terribly close to the second round. When he walked away from the truck, he was shaking his head because I was wearing shorts and one of my favorite T-shirts – an old baby blue t-shirt that read, “Run for Joy”. As much as he liked my JTAC and me, he thought we were undisciplined because we had long hair, rarely wore uniforms and only shaved once a week. In a base that small, there is no barber and I was not going to let a Joe touch my hair.
After driving the truck to the staging area and taking our place in the convoy, I heard my call sign over the radio. I was being informed that the A-10s slated to support us had been diverted to a different mission. We were to have a single B-1 instead. My JTAC was frustrated as, back then, the B-1s did not have the capabilities they have today. Our presence in the patrol became pretty useless. My JTAC did not like going on missions where we did not have the ability to contribute with lethal doses of close air support. At this point, it was too late to back down.
Just before we rolled out, I had time to take a look at myself. I had some bruises, and most of my legs were covered in dirt from the gravel on the base. I was annoyed because I had taken a shower that day. Our shower was a metal barrel that sat in the shade all day long making the water incredibly cold. When that cold water touched your body, steam would rise up giving the false impression that one had taken a hot shower. The water was so cold that taking a shower had become an inconvenience and only undertaken from time to time. Before I could complain about it, we started to move. I pulled down my NVG’s and followed the truck in front of me.
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