War is ruthless, war is brutal, war is hell. There are really no rules when engaged in a gun battle other than to kill the enemy and not be killed. It seems complex but in my experiences its actually very simple. As I started to look forward to getting into heated gun battles I started to realize how close I was to getting blasted and how close I was to death. I know that death is part of war but the thought of your heart stopping and your world closing in on you is hard for me to picture. I know that If I was to get hit by a mortar round or take a bullet I wanted it to be quick.
During my second deployment to Iraq, I was based out of Tikrit, Iraq and ran multiple missions mainly south of Baghdad. This areas was known as the Triangle of Death. The Triangle of Death is part of an area near Yusifiyah about 18 KM SW of Baghdad Iraq. The location was severed from occupation by coalition forces because of a fork in the River. It was a triangle of land (hence the name) that was skirted by 2 rivers that came to a fork. The enemy knew that coalition forces were unable to occupy this area because of the terrain features so they booby trapped all road access going in and out. The only way in was to be flown in by helicopter. Basically, no one could occupy this area so it was a breeding ground for bad guys.
The first time I entered the area, me and my mortar team were dropped off and were to set up a blocking position so other Coalition Forces could sweep the area and look for bad guys or bomb making material. We were dropped off near an old Russian built power plant built in the 80s. This same place is where members of a rebel insurgency hung 4 captured American soldiers about 8 months prior. I knew it was going to be bad. Just the name of the location, The Triangle of Death is enough to get you rattled. But I wanted to see what it had to offer and was eager to get on the ground and conduct the mission.
We stepped off the helicopter and immediately made a half circle perimeter so that the bird could take off and fly safely away. Once we got to our blocking position we started taking enemy mortar fire and some small arms fire. My gun team immediately got our base gun into action and laid in on our poles. The enemy started to get closer and we got word they were near a treeline about 200 meters from my position. I was about to hang some rounds when I got an order to direct lay on the enemy. This is when we started taking accurate enemy mortar fire and they started to move on our position. These guys knew what they were doing, something I wasn't accustomed to. Usually the enemy is very poorly lead and had no tactics other than to spray AK rounds in your general direction. I started to dial the sight to the target location and I suddenly realized that I was in a mortar dual with a seasoned enemy mortar gunner. This was a very personal moment for me because it was me or him. My training versus his training. Just knowing that I needed to execute was a lot of pressure along with the heat (120's that day) and the adrenaline flowing but I somehow maintained control of myself. Although I had never been in this position before and I started to get a little scared, I knew I had to keep my mind from wandering so I focused on the task at hand. Eliminating the enemy gunner. Once I heard the "thunk" of his out going round I would dial my sight over to the approximate area the enemy was, level the gun and my assistant gunner would hang a round. All while my team and I were dodging the incoming rounds. This was a true test for me, as I started to see that he was bracketing our blocking position I knew I needed to eliminate the enemy and fast. The Forward Observer that was observing the rounds saw that we were in a heated dual as well. He then lased the enemy gun position (gave us an accurate grid to the bad guys location) and I dialed in on the bad guy and blasted him. It was scary, knowing you are in someones sights to be killed. We continued the mission and fired nearly 40 more High Explosive rounds as the enemy came over the river to reinforce the other insurgents. After about 2 days of fighting I was relieved to see our bird drop in on the Landing Zone. It was our ride back to safety! I prepared to move out and would live to fight another day. Although the next time my mortar team would come back to the Triangle of Death we wouldn't be as lucky.
If you have had a scary moment in combat or in life where you feared for your life I encourage you to talk about it. This is my personal account of what was happening, I am m not trying to make myself look heroic. I was just doing my job and thanks to my mortar team we were able to eliminate the enemy and continue the deployment.