“Generally speaking, the way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death” -Miyamoto Musahsi
Before we rolled out, I noticed an individual wandering by the truck. His name was “Ski” and he was what I would consider the village idiot. Ski was an 11B (infantryman) known for his incompetence (he once managed to load the bullets in backwards in his rife magazine) and was often bullied by other soldiers. I know better than to fuck with people like that. Besides being a generally odd person, he seemed to have some type of mental disorder. I never knew what his deal was, but nonetheless, I always treated him with respect from the fear that one day he would go postal. I yelled at him, “Ski, what the fuck are you doing? We are about to leave!” He said to me that he had just been kicked off his vehicle because he had forgotten his weapon. I tried not to laugh, but my JTAC calling him an idiot made me chuckle. I asked him for a favor before we rolled out. I gave him my parents’ phone number and asked him to call my father and tell him that I was OK and that I would call him in a few hours. He agreed and we took off.
One of the issues of this patrol was that due to the size of the base, we did not have any type of radar warning system. With the lack of aircraft with the capabilities that we required, finding the people responsible or the origin on the launching area was almost impossible. We were looking for a needle in a haystack. This also could set a behavior pattern that would allow the bad guys to counter our operational procedures and put us in a bad spot in the future.
Once we rolled out, we broke off in two different groups to cover more ground. Shortly after the B-1 checked in with us, my JTAC passed on several target locations on the off-chance that the Commander might want us to start dropping some bombs, although we knew that such a thing was never going to happen. As great a Commander as he was, he was always reluctant to use close air support. In this case, a bomb or two on the outskirts of the town was perfectly justifiable, but the Commander said no. Instead, he agreed to a low level sub-sonic show of force. The sight and roar of a B-1 at a low level during night is without match! Story goes that the First Sergeant who stayed back, cowered underneath a desk inside the TOC because he believed it was another incoming rocket.
While my group was on one side of the town, radio chatter from the other group informed us that they had found something. After joining up with them we discovered what we had known from the beginning – the method used to attack us. What we did not know is to what extent the attack could have been. We came to a hill where 10 more rockets were resting on plywood with a homemade timing detonation system that had failed – hence the two rockets that had landed on our base. I never underestimated the ingenuity of the bad guys in the area. They were innovators at heart and always found a way to startle us. This time it seemed they did not have enough knowledge to make this system efficient. I never thought of them as cowards either. After all, wars are won by cheaters and those ones who exploit weakness – never by the guys who play by the rules.
As we surveyed the area and the engineers began defusing the rest of the faulty launching system, I made a startling discovery and turned to the Commander to say “Sir. . . ” Before I could finish my sentence he barked at me, “What do you want?” He had a hard time taking me seriously in my running shorts, baby blue t-shirt and running shoes. I said, “Check that out” and pointed to the lights of the bazaar that pointed straight at the base, creating a perfect aiming stick to the center of the base. He commended me for the discovery and ordered smashing all the lights that ran along the road to the bazaar.
As we headed back, some of the soldiers started breaking the light bulbs with rocks and sticks they found along the way. I decided to take it a step further and started shooting at them with my old, piece-of-shit Beretta that would often jam — years later that same side arm would save my life. The soldiers followed suit, making the Commander extremely angry. He never found out that I had started that mess.
Back at the base and after conducting a debrief, the First Sergeant had a “gift” for me. It was the head of the round that had barely missed me. By then everyone knew that my life had almost ended. I stood in front of it, and touched it. It was still warm, and when my full hand covered the top of the round, I realized the delicateness of life. On the short walk back to the hooch with my red light in hand, I stopped in the same place where I had been knocked on my ass. I looked at the back of my helmet and noticed scratches that correlated to the depression on the gravel where my head came to rest.
I dropped off my body armor and helmet at my hooch, and headed to the phone tent. I called my father and said “Dad, I love you.” The sentiment faded away into conversation with him. This was not the first time that my life had been endangered, but this was the first time I truly almost died. Good thing, as my father-in-law would say, “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” and in my case — duds.
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Conclusion of the three-part series: Almost: Death Came Home