Friday, September 27, 2013

The Creed - by Keith Nightingale

After reading +Cory Smith's post on "The Power of the Ranger Creed",  Ranger Hall of Fame Member Colonel (Retired) Keith Nightingale emailed me this and I reprint it here with his permission - RLTW  km

The Creed

By Keith Nightengale

The site is one of the least hospitable places in Afghanistan, which is saying a great deal.  Unlike most bases in Afghanistan, it is devoid of local Afghanis not part of the assembled force, intentionally so.  The reason is quickly apparent when the occupants are seen. 

Some of the population is walking across the small open area near a vehicle park.  They are uniformly dressed in light grey/green skin tight long sleeved polyester shirts and wrap around sunglasses.  Protection against the cold of the altitude combined with the excessively bright sunlight associated with the altitude and lack of cloud cover. This is similar to Camp 1 of Everest but with significantly more personal firepower and purpose.   

Under the sleeves, the large tightly confined biceps are easily seen.  The pants are a desert digital camouflage pattern finished off with scuff brown desert boots raising small dust clouds as they press on the decomposed granite and gravel that passes for dirt at this altitude and place.  Their lips are cracked with numerous bleeding sites despite the heavy application of lip balm hanging in chunks around the splits.  The edges of the sunglasses hide the deep fissures of the crows feet, filled with the fine dust endemic to the area that finds a home in every body crevice.  Hair curls out beneath a patrol cap on one and a wool watch cap on the other.  The sweat and grease on the exposed hair glistens at the edges and catches the dust in a fine brown dew that collects on the tips.   These are Rangers and they are serious people supporting a serious business.

To their left, under an open carport structure, are several other men.  They are dramatically different.  They have long beards and flowing hair and wear traditional local garb.  But a closer look shows a significant difference between them and the native population.  There is a group similarity to their obvious upper body strength, relatively unlined faces and near-perfect teeth.  No sign of the gross dental rot that afflicts virtually all the Afghan males-the result of a lifetime of drinking super sweet chai tea and the absence of any preventive dentistry.  These are what the Department of Defense calls Tier One forces.  They are very serious people doing very serious things.  Both elements are here to mutually conduct the most difficult and dangerous tasks that can be assigned-hunting armed humans with multi-generational experience in the game.

The hunted and hunters frequently exchange roles depending on circumstances.  For hundreds of years, the quarry has practiced its craft, adhered to Darwin’s thesis and emerged as victors over the most sophisticated and technically armed societies.  The latest Nation State to appear has directed the Tiered elements to join in the human version of the Boone and Crockett Club with the trophy game fully armed.  In fact, their ability to create local leadership vacuums is crucial to the larger Allied strategy.  If they are not successful on a repetitive small scale, the larger engaged elements become irrelevant. Together, they and the Rangers are planning and rehearsing tonight’s hunt. It’s never easy.  Most of the target rich environment is surrounded by naked terrain or extremely rugged access.  Getting there is not half the fun.

The Rangers slowly coalesce into an informal formation; some with weapons and some without.  They gather fairly tightly together with an assortment of watch caps, patrol caps and warm huggy covers bobbing as they converse.  Spit cups are an almost universal accompaniment. Cargo pockets bulge with items essential for maintaining a personal civilization. At a distance, it’s easier to see the rise and fall of the white foam cup than the body of the holders.  An individual appears out of the closest door and the heads rise.  As if on a signal, the Rangers move into a formation and without an order assume disciplined parade ground spacing and look attentively to the leader.

With a firm but modulated voice, the leader speaks; “Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger………..”  When he completes his sentence, the unit, in a single voice, not loud but with firm enunciation and conviction repeats his sentence.  At the final word of the first stanza, the leader looks at the center of the group and says with the same clear voice “Acknowledging that as a Ranger………….”   Again, the group repeats the phrase with strong clear conviction.  In this dust-driven, enervating and ambiguous environment, these soldiers have found a lodestone to guide them and a moral compass to comfort them in the engagement ahead.  The last words of the Ranger Creed softly roll across the courtyard-“….though I be the lone survivor.”  Almost immediately, the entire group exudes a chorus- Rangers Lead The Way!  Hoowah.  With the Hoowah on a waning declination, the group breaks up and the individuals go about their last minute preparation for the coming night’s events.

Approximately eight hours later, the same group exits from the various vehicles that have just rolled into the compound trailing a cloud of dust as they deposit their loads.  Several small helicopters deposit their passengers amongst the dirt and flotsam sucked up from the compound yard. It is still dark enough to see the grey-green glow as the particles strike the tips of the rotating blades.  Some, Rangers, move purposely toward the hootch they assembled at the previous dusk.  Others, in almost native dress, many with thick beards, ambled toward their portion of the compound.

The Rangers, some quicker than others, gather in an informal assembly.  Some move slowly, more shambling than erect, bent over with either gear or exhaustion or both.  They are now fully equipped with all the killing tools of their combat equipment, night vision devices, commo gear with embracing wires and antennas, Kevlar protection and with some butt packs now loosely closed absent their original contents. Their load bearing straps are arrayed with a variety of ammo pouches, lights, grenades and the miscellaneous comfort items soldiers develop.  Their heads, now sweat and dust streaked, are either in Kevlar or watch caps and the movements display the exhaustion of the night’s activities. Rivulets of grimy water course down exposed necks making small streams of exposed flesh.  Several Rangers have bandages on arms, legs or necks.  Its been a long night.  Weapons muzzles are coated with a light cast of dust, the twilight still too dark to render meaningful color. An occasional passing light beam activates the Glint tape of a Ranger for a moment before it passes. 

As if by osmosis, the group coalesces dissolving into a reasonable facsimile of a formation.  The leader stands in front and begins what has become a daily ritual of recovery from the evening’s program………….”Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger…………”  On the initial words, the group automatically assumes a tighter formation, straightens up their heads and alignment and repeats the stanza….”Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger………….”  The voices are somewhat more muted than earlier but occasionally a Ranger will become particularly loud or concise in repeating a specific set of words as if they were cathartic and an antidote to what he had just experienced.

Finally, the last stanza of the Creed is spoken
     “…… tho I be the lone survivor!”  The group raises its voice several degrees, spits the words out with a single breath and without orders, breaks away to their various home stations for cleanup, recovery and rest. The Rangers are home for another twelve hours.  The sounds of the Creed dissipate in the cold, dry wind but are not lost to either those that spoke them or to those that faced the full measure of their meaning.  The Ranger Creed is more than words, they are a life.   And they materially assist those charged with taking it from others.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Power of the Ranger Creed

Over the weekend, I had the chance to meet with an individual who said he was in the Ranger Regiment a couple decades ago.  I couldn't verify, so I did my best to ask him questions to check the legitimacy of his claim.  I'm not going to list his name or the duration he was in for the sake of confidentiality, but I'll refer to him as Joe.  Joe, had been in and out of the VA for quite some time for mental health and addiction issues.  He had been clean for some time, and now was now facing something that I was familiar with, trouble with marriage.

Joe told me that his wife had taken his son and disappeared for a week, only to find out that she was with her "new" friend, and she didn't want to be with him anymore.  The stress from this situation filled him with anger and he said things he shouldn't have said, and did things that he shouldn't have done.  He was regretful, but still very angry.  I did my best to explain to him in Ranger language that he is going to go through many different emotions, and many of us have been there before, so he is not alone.  His major concern was for his son.  His son was his buddy and meant more to him than anything, and he was scared that he was going to lose him.  I told him my story and about how Run Ranger Run is what saved my life when I went through the similar situation.  I'm not sure if it gave him some hope, but at least it was an example that he can overcome.

The second time I talked to Joe, I had a printed copy of the Ranger Creed that I gave to him.  I highlighted a few lines that apply to his situation:

"...and I will shoulder more than my share of the task, whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some."

"Surrender is not a Ranger word."

Joe told me that the few minutes that I had talked to him, presenting him with a copy of the Ranger Creed, was more therapeutic for him than all the years combined that he had talked to anyone else at the VA or other facilities.  I told Joe that he had this motivation all along, that it was in his head, and all he had to was live it.  The following day when I talked to him, I noticed that his tone had changed, and he stood a bit taller.  He told me that he had taped the copy I gave him to his door, so every time he steps outside he reads it, and it gives him the motivation possible to attack the day.  It was refreshing seeing the difference in his demeanor.  It may only be temporary, and he may have some other obstacles in his way, but at least now he has something to pull him back to solid ground, giving him the ability to refocus on the objectives ahead of him.

Following this encounter with Joe, I realized that I do not read, nor recite the Ranger Creed nearly enough.  So, I printed an extra copy for myself, and much like Joe, I taped mine to the door.

First stanza of the Ranger Creed, repeat after me...  

Another Ranger's perspective on the Ranger Creed

Friday, September 20, 2013

Landmark Insights

Hello again Warriors. Here is this installment of insights from Landmark I wanted to share with you...

Whatever reality may be, it will be shaped by the lens through which we see it. When we are born we are handed multiple lenses: genetic inheritance, gender, a specific culture and the variables of our family environment, all of which constitute our sense of reality. Looking back later, we see that we have perhaps lived less from our true nature than from the vision of reality ordained by the lenses we used.*
The good news is that our actions are not correlated to some reality ordained by those lenses, but rather to how the world "occurs" to us. With the unsettling of old realities, stepping to one side and another, we become interested in what might be, what we can imagine. "Reality" is a phenomenon that arises in language. Language is both the ultimate reality and the instrument through which reality is brought forth—there is no reality "per se," no fixed reality. There's only how we see it, how we say it is—it's interpretation all the way down.
It's language—what we say (with and about others, ourselves, and the world at large) that constitutes who we are. Getting that at the most fundamental level alters the very nature of what's possible—not merely in the way we think about ourselves, but in the actual experience and expression of who we are. Language is inseparable from who we are, and what gives us access to our true nature—to the full panoply of being human.

So, my reality after thee military was I'm damaged and all my interactions emanated from that "reality" or view. After doing the Landmark Forum my "reality" or view changed from I'm damaged to I'm not damaged. The way my lifestyle and my interactions with people, my love life and everything else changed from that view was amazing. People weren't scared of me anymore. Put another way, my actions no longer were intimidating because I wasn't scared of being around other people. Now I can walk into a store, public space, class and just feel like I belong. I still check for exits, fatal funnels and the suspicious people, but now I'm okay being wherever I am because I belong like everyone else.

The way I now see myself is directly related to knowing I'm NOT damaged. I got issues, but so does everyone. I'm not damaged anymore because my view changed. I could see the old way I saw myself and transform it into the way I see myself now. Healthy, whole, complete and happy. I choose these new views because this is how I want to feel. From these views I am able to have a life, a good life and be part of the community, go to church, do stuff I like, have a love life because I no longer scare women away and more. I appreciate my new life after Landmark because of the tools I got going and you will too.

Learn more about GallantFew's Landmark Program.

Here For YOU!

Larry Zabel

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two Years of Finding My Way. Two Years of Finding Myself. Two Years of Never Giving Up.

Here I am, writing to you as a better man, a better father, and from much better circumstances than I was in two years ago.  I am working as a Mental Health Clinician, attending an accelerated nursing program to earn my second bachelors degree, and being the best father I can be to my three year old daughter.  I just celebrated my 30th birthday this past week, but still feel like I am 20.  So, life is going well.  But, about six months ago, things weren't looking so well.  I was underemployed, not even making enough money to pay my bills, and I had no clue where life was taking me.  So, as I write, I can't help but reflect upon these past two years.

My life September 2011.
Two years ago this month, my wife at the time decided that the military and marriage wasn't what she wanted.  When she left, she took my daughter and pretty much cleared the apartment, leaving me with a chair, an inflatable mattress, the washer/dryer, and the television (as you can see from the photo.  I keep this photo on my phone to always remind of how far I have come).  My apartment was much like my heart, empty.  I hated myself, angry at the world.  Needless to say, things between my daughter's mother and I did not get better over time.  The only way I could cope with the madness and the absence of my daughter was by running, and Run Ranger Run took form.

After I got home, I had a hard time getting oriented to the new life.  I was living with my parents, and struggling to move past the anger from the process of divorce.  I became disassociated from everyone except from my daughter, which I still am a little bit to this day.  Finally, I was able to move out.  I remember how excited I was when I bought a couch.  I had bought everything for my daughters room, but for the longest time it was the only piece of furniture of mine in the apartment.  A few months after moving in, I lost my job and didn't have a pot to piss in.  I was collecting unemployment and was ashamed of it.

But, I didn't give up.  Just this past weekend, I finally got a real bed. One that doesn't sit a foot off the ground. And you bet your ass it's a king size.  It was a present from my parents for my birthday.  Sure, its only a bed, but it is more than a place to rest my head at night.  The headboard is about six feet high, and the thing barely fits in my room.  But for me, it puts a large part of my past to rest, and I can move forward knowing that things are starting to come together.

So, two years down the road, I have a couch, a bed, and a mission to complete.  And as corny as this may sound, I actually shed a few tears today, with a smile on my face as I was making my bed. Two years of finding my way.  Two years of finding myself.  Two years of never giving up.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I will never leave a fallen comrade…

It’s part of our Creed.  We all know it.  It’s been engrained in us from day one, especially if you’ve been in a leadership position.  You take care of the dude to your left, front, right and rear.  They depend on you.  They need you.  

So who did you leave behind this time?  Who’s the one guy you tend to leave behind more than anyone or anything else?  Take a look in the mirror.  Yeah, that guy.  You need them just as much as they need you.  And if you’re run down, and you’re not functioning properly, what good are you to them?

Let’s look at this as if you’re still wearing the superman outfit first.  I can remember more times than I’d like to admit, being locked in my office, truck, track, CHU and told by my Right Hand man, “Sir, get some damn rest.  Right now you look like a bag of smashed ass and you’re acting accordingly.”  They were right.  I had either run myself down to the point where I couldn’t make decisions or my temper was off the chart.  Throwing everything out of whack.  Every one of those guys that “needed” me proved time and again that I needed them more than they needed me.  I learned pretty much everything from my 1SGs, PSGs, SLs and yes, sometimes even my team leaders.  

Well now the situation is different.  I get to pick my clothes out when I go to work.  Now who’s got your back?  Is it a friend, is it your family?  If you’re lucky, you’ve got some great co-workers or a mentor.  Chances are, it’s pretty much just you and your family; maybe just you.  At least that’s how you feel right now.  

The transition is hard.  You miss folks; you see everything differently than everyone else does.  Maybe you don’t see the point in killing yourself at work because no one else does.  More than likely, you’re killing yourself at work because no one else will.  You’re tired, angry and probably feel alone and misunderstood.  Sounds like a teenager doesn’t it?  So what do you do about it?  Drink, become depressed, whollowing in your-self pity or rebel?  Sounds a lot like a teenager doesn’t it?  Well as degrading as that sounds, it’s normal.  Considering you have bills and probably others to take care of and not wanting to admit “defeat” to your home boys that are still in; none of these are good options.   To be honest, I’m still not used to being out and have done all of the above.  But I packed my ruck, not someone else.

When I got out, I had been back from Iraq for less than 3 months.  I moved to a new area without any friends or support network outside of my wife.   I missed my son’s first birthday by about 4 days.  So yeah, he was three weeks old when I left.  Let’s recap; new Veteran, reintegration with family and being a dad for the first time, unemployed, no friends, paying a mortgage on one house and paying rent on another…want me to keep going?  When I make a shit sandwich, there’s no such thing as halfway cooked. 

Yeah, it built up and it sure as hell got worse.  Is it better?  I could argue that.  But let’s be honest, if you have to make an argument for something, it probably isn’t looking so hot.  

So how do I take care of me?  First, I told my wife that I loved her and asked her to be patient with me.  Then I had to figure out what was driving me nuts and making me unhappy.  Professionally and financially, yeah.  Personally, yeah.  Family?  Nope that’s good.  

Ok genius, what do you like to do?  What do you miss? What makes you feel worthwhile?

I like running or riding for way longer than makes sense or doing some ridiculous event with little training just to say I did it.  So every so often I pick an event, go out and have a good time.  I go to the kiddy section of the gym my wife works at so no one laughs at me.  But I go.  I’m not pinging off the walls with energy but I actually need to stay in shape and expend energy.  It makes me feel like I did something.

I liked working with folks.  Developing young leaders is the one thing that I enjoyed the most when I was on active duty.  Becoming an instructor at 4th RTB and deciding to be a company commander, then living those dreams were the most rewarding jobs I had.  I reached out to GallantFew as a mentor and someone looking for a hand; and life has been significantly better since then.  Keep in mind that this was less than a year after I separated and was still very far from making the adjustments that I needed to in order to make the impact that I want to.  

The folks I’ve met through GallantFew have been absolutely amazing.  I’d like to think that I’m helping but in all honesty, I’m getting more out of them than they are of me.  I’ve been working with GallantFew for almost two years now, helping where I can and asking for a lot of advice.  I can call anyone of these guys or gals (that I’ve never met) and they respond with more than I can ask for.  

My true and honest turning point was a few months ago, when I reached out to a guy that I had never talked to before.  He was a bit down, confused and feeling like he didn’t know where to go next.  I used a little common sense, got to know him and listened.  He sounded a lot like one of the many young Soldiers I had.  He sounded just like me.  We did an inventory, came up with a hasty plan and he got moving.  He’s in school now and more than on his way to success.  I remember hanging up the phone and saying to myself, “Self, you’re an idiot.  Slap yourself, self.  You just told this kid what to do and you aren’t even doing it yourself.”   Yes, that’s exactly how the conversation went.

Professionally?  I’m way happier after changing jobs once already but I’m still working on that one.  So instead of being mad at everyone or feeling sorry for myself, I started studying.  One certification at a time.  Do I have a clearly defined endstate?  Nope.  Will it really improve the situation?  Maybe.  But I’ve got a goal and I’ve got a plan so I started moving instead of sitting on my duff.  How’s that saying go, “A good plan executed violently now is better than a great plan executed tomorrow?”  

Remember the 1/3, 2/3’s rule?  Well it applies to everything.  So does a lot of other things you did as part of your PCI’s and PCC’s.  Pretty much the only difference is, you don’t have to worry about “getting bumped around”.  Do an inventory of your assets.  Eval your situation.  Check your pax roster and task org accordingly.  Focus on the mission critical tasks, do a little COA Development, wargame a bit, pick an azimuth and start moving.  Don’t forget that you need to take a knee, eat chow and drink some water every once in a while.  Oh and if you’ve got a buddy, put a rock in his ruck.  It’ll be funny.  The rest is cake and battle drills.  It worked over there, it’ll work here.

The points being is that you DO have to take care of yourself and you DO have to learn to lean on others, admitting your wrongs or weaknesses.  We tend to forget that as an individual, as the leader, we are the one that has to spot check ourselves.  If that means letting some chores slide every once in a while to get a few more winks on the weekend, leaving right when your shift ends or just doing something you want to do because you enjoy it every now and then.  Make time for yourself.  It sounds selfish but it really isn’t.  

In regards to asking for help, think about this. You get into a nasty situation over there; did you hesitate to call for indirect or QRF?  Probably not.  Why in the hell would you hesitate to call someone and ask them for help here?  When you’re in a bind and isolated, it leads to nothing but bad decisions.  

Lastly, don’t forget to laugh.  Take a look around, there’s plenty to laugh about.  We learned to find the joy or ridiculousness in the simplest things before and we should still do that.  Life is hard enough and being angry all the time is tiring.  I know that I’ve been in worse spots and was still able to laugh.  Hell it’s gotten me in trouble.  But it still turned out alright.


Clarence Matthews  

Clarence is an important part of our team and has volunteered to be available when a veteran is in crisis mode (you'll see his contact info at the top of  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gold Star Sister's Response to Urban Outfitters Use of 3rd Ranger Battalion Scroll on Clothing Line

Today forwarded to me by three different folks was this blog posting, written by Guardian of Valor.  The summary is that Urban Outfitters has decided to offer clothing with military patches, especially of note is the distinctive red, white and black 3rd Ranger Battalion scroll.

I think it's important that as many people as possible see this response, directed to Urban Outfitters and written by Gold Star Sister Cindy D.

"I do not think that I have ever written to a company asking for an article of their clothing to be removed from their stores, but today I did so. Urban Outfitters has a line of jackets called Kill City and one of those jackets has the Ranger scroll on it. It bothered me that they are using the Ranger name to sell clothing - especially since the line of jackets of which this is a part is Kill City. I wrote the following email to them. If this bothers you as well, I encourage you to let the company know.
I am writing quite concerned about your apparel. I understand making your clothing appeal to youth and trying to make it look cool. Unfortunately, by using the Ranger scroll Urban Outfitters is denigrating that very group. You make common a patch that is not for the common. Becoming a Ranger takes a strength and courage that should be held in high esteem instead of trivialized in order to sell clothing.
A young man dreamed of becoming an Army Ranger. He wanted it more than anything else and he enlisted in the Army. This young man went to Ranger training at Ft. Benning, Georgia and showed the intestinal fortitude and mental toughness required to complete the grueling training . His parents witnessed his graduation into this elite group of our nation's toughest soldiers. Then the unthinkable happened - our nation was attacked on September 11th. The Rangers immediately made preparations to seek out the cowards responsible for the attacks. This young man's Ranger Battalion was deployed to Afghanistan and he spent his 21st birthday in the mountains of Afghanistan. In the early morning hours of March 4, 2002 a Navy Seal fell out of a helicopter and was captured. A special operations unit was sent in. The men were greatly outnumbered by the enemy forces entrenched in rock fortresses on the mountain. Through the heroic actions of the special operations unit, the enemy was defeated. That day, seven men became our country's first combat fatalities in Afghanistan including the young Ranger, my step-brother, CPL Matthew Commons. Like the many who fell before these men and the many Rangers who will someday make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, they do so willingly because as Rangers they have put their nation before self according to the Ranger Creed.
The Ranger Creed
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of my Ranger Regiment.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite Soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well trained Soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.
I feel very strongly that we as a country show our service members the respect and honor they deserve. This is not done by using the name of the elite Army Rangers to sell clothing. I would like this vest to be pulled from inventory. Additionally, I ask that your company show respect for the Rangers by making a donation to GallantFew, a 501(C)3 charity founded by an Army Ranger with the mission to reduce US Army Ranger veteran unemployment, homelessness and eliminate Ranger veteran suicide by a unique program of one-on-one mentoring by a Ranger veteran, now successful in civilian business, with a Ranger veteran just departed active duty."
Well said, Cindy.  Well said.

Cindy also competed in the Pike's Peak Marathon last month in honor of her step-brother.

If you want to lend your voice to Urban Outfitters, you can contact them here.  Please keep your comments calm and respectful.


Before I even had a chance to post this, I received a message that the vest has been removed from Urban Outfitters.  This is what you see when you go to the page now.

RLTW  Karl

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Alive Day- September 1, 2006.

Today's blog is written by US Army veteran Jay Erwin.  Jay is a volunteer with GallantFew and many times is the first contact a new veteran makes when connecting with GallantFew.  km

7 years ago yesterday I was still in the Triangle of Death about to have one the worst days of my life.

We loaded a Chinook helicopter at 2300 and would be on the ground 30 minutes later to conduct what I thought was a routine mission. We would spend 4 days at the same power plant hunting for the same elusive enemy. I was going to be driving a John Deere Gator 6x6 loaded with 20 high explosive 81 mm mortar rounds and the complete 81 mm mortar system. We were to walk in on the objective and I was to drive the mortar system and rounds to our hasty position. The problem was that we were miss-dropped from our original SP point about 2 clicks off course. We would have to navigate to our final destination point with a compass and a map, nothing out of the ordinary.

The night was hot and I could already feel my body being engulfed in a warm barrier of sweat. We began to walk in a single file line,stagger, every other man on the opposite side of the road. We had enough distance between us so that one well aimed shot wouldn't kill 2 of us. We walked for a good 30 minutes until we came to a small house with a cow in the back, it looked abandoned but I knew better than that. The house looked like something out of the Stone Age era, made of mud and bricks molded together by some sort of mud paste (example). It had a small courtyard in the front made of a wooden gate surrounded by a makeshift fence. There were no windows or doors just holes bored by hand that resembled a door and 2 windows. The were no lights on, the only sign of life was a very skinny and nervous cow with a lead rope around its neck pacing around in a tiny coral area.

The small dirt road I was traversing had huge craters form 155 mm artillery rounds that had impacted earlier in the war. It gave me a very eerie feeling in my stomach and I could feel the hair rise on my arms and neck. The goose bumps and chill I got from that house was not a feeling I like to remember. My palms began to sweat and my senses were so heightened and my adrenaline so high that I felt like I was a super human. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest as my mouth began to become dry. I felt completely alive.

I began to see my teammates' IR strobes and lasers light up the house in the windows and doors through my NODS. We were all  waiting for a possible target to pop up and were to engage. The low hum of the motor on the Gator began to get louder as I began to speed past the house and get out of the danger zone. Once we got to the front of the house I notice two Toyota Hilux 1980 something looking trucks,the typical enemy transportation that they liked to use. The trucks were the only things that were reminiscent of something past the Stone Age.

We slowly passed the house and turned on a black top road that led us to the front of the power plant we were to occupy. This was not our original position we were supposed to go to but due to being dropped off in the wrong location and a flat tire on the Gator we had to hurry to a safe area before the sun came up. The enemy doesn't like to fight at night because we have the technical and tactical advantage of night vision and air assets. These devices allow us to see the enemy just as well at night.

We began to lay our guns in and settle down to eat chow and get a well needed water break. The sun was up and it was a brutally hot day. I think it was nearly 130 degrees around noon, nothing short of miserable. As soon as we got done eating we scattered around 2 mobile trailers with FDC (Fire Direction Control) in one trailer and the gun teams in the other. Around 1400 we began to receive enemy mortar fire. The fire was getting close and I began to feel super helpless. There is nothing worse than waiting on an enemy mortar round to land in your lap. Not my idea of fun at all. One of the 82 mm mortar rounds impacted the back of the trailer and peppered our RTO's arm. It was just a flesh wound but we were all very shaken. These bad guys had us dialed in. The barrage lasted around 15 minutes and just as fast as it all happened, it stopped. We fired a few rounds back but never heard what had happened.

Around 1700 we were all eating in an open area when we began taking more enemy fire, this time you could hear them impacting closer and closer. I told the guys near me to get their helmets and eyepro back on because it was just in time for the enemy to start fighting. The enemy likes to fight during first light until about 0930 then take a break for a few hours and then start back when it starts to cool down in the evening.

As soon as I started walking back to the base gun, I saw a huge flash of light and then felt a piercing shock through my body. I felt like I was in slow motion, my body buckled and thudded to the ground. It felt like someone had turned off the lights. My mind started to race and flicker with thoughts like, where am I? What just happened? Why can't I move? I could only see a haze of white and started feeling a burning sensation in my legs.

My mind started flickering back on, catching glimpses of blood, people running, their mouths were moving but I couldn't hear them. I could not hear anything but a very high pitched ringing it was deafening in my ears. I slowly came back to and started to notice that I was no longer standing, I reached for my gun, I couldn't find it, I was panicking. I couldn't find my gun.

The sound came back, everyone was screaming, "Medic!" "MEDIC!" "MEEEDDDICCC!" I felt as if I were in a tunnel. I had been hit by a mortar round and I was bleeding through my pants. Everyone around me was on the ground, yelling. I thought, this is it, I'm going to die.

I looked up and noticed someone emerging from the burning mobile trailer. It was my section sergeant, his hair and arms were on fire,  his face was black and charred from the smoke. He stumbled to the ground, smoldering as others ran to his rescue. I lay there knowing I needed to help but I couldn't move. My buddy Bush who was just 10 feet away from me when this happened. He had a hole the size of a half dollar in his upper bicep which I didn't notice at the time. He began to drag me away from the burning trailer because we had 15 of our 81mm High Explosive rounds inside and they started to detonate from the fire. He managed to drag me about 15 meters over a berm high enough for us both to be shielded by any secondary explosions.

Doc Johnson came running over to me and began administering an IV and gave me a shot in the leg of something. He cut all my clothes off and of course I was more worried about my manhood being there than anything else in the world. Thank God it was still there! I had a younger private that sat with me and fed me water, I had him retrieve my can of chew from my sleeve pocket and tuck it underneath my hip. Through all of this, all I wanted was my powdery can of Copenhagen snuff? Weird.

The burning pain in my legs started to slow down and I started to realize that my fingers were mangled as well as my ankle. My legs looked like swiss cheese and I was screaming from the pain. Doc Johnson was super worried about the shrapnel I took to the face, mostly to my neck. I could tell he was worried even though he didn't say it. He didn't have to say it, I knew something was wrong. They put a tourniquet on my leg to stop the bleeding in my ankle. Two (F-F18's) fast movers came screaming in and cleared out the enemy by dropping two 500 pound laser guided bombs very close to our location. I could feel the earth rumble beneath me. I could see the MEDEVAC bird coming to pick us up, we were close enough to the 10th Baghdad CASH that it took about 15 minutes for us to be picked up. Time was on my side. There is usually about an hour that is critical time when a severely injured soldier has to be worked on also known as the Golden Hour.

Things started to slow down and I began to think I was okay until I got into the CASH (basically the ER), the doctors told me to call my mom and handed me a cell phone. They told me that they were not sure if I was going to make it out of surgery because of the puncture wounds to my neck (emphasis added by editor). It was 0400 in Wichita, Kansas but I wanted to tell my mom I loved her. Once again, I was faced with unknown, my mind started racing, the pain was excruciating and now I needed to compose myself enough to tell my mom possibly goodbye-forever. The pain meds were in full effect and I remember her answering, I don't remember what I said but I do remember saying I love you.

I woke up in so much pain I wanted to puke, my leg was completely wrapped up in a mess of gauze, bandages, and dressings. My right hand had been completely covered as well and I had a wound vac in my upper leg where I had taken a decent size piece of shrapnel near my femoral artery. I was on a huge gurney wrapped in an OD green Army wool blanket. I hated those damn blankets, they made me itch. The same itchy blanket I started my career off with making my bunk in basic training and now I was basically ending my time with one.  It sort of reminded me of something that might have went on when soldiers in the Civil War were injured. The tent was hot with dim lights, heart monitors were beeping, strange buzzing sounds were going off, I could see the Army Chaplain making his way to the critically wounded.. Some soldiers were moaning, some were still in a panic, some were pleading for more pain meds and some were sobbing in fear. I still hate those damn wool blankets.

Doctors made two 4 inch incisions parallel with my airway on each side of my trachea to pull shrapnel from the fatty portion of my carotid arteries. The surgeons words were exactly, "shrapnel was in the outside membrane of both carotid arteries, you were within less than a quarter inch from losing your life."

This news was very hard for me to understand at the time but something that has stayed with me. In ways this was going to be my second chance at life. I still carry over 50 pieces of shrapnel in my body still to this day. Its a bleak reminder of the pure chaos I was fortunate to live through. One of my buddies was less fortunate, he did not make it out of the burning building. That is actually why I am telling this story. Out of the 10 that were with me on that day 9 of us were MEDEVAC'd off the battlefield and one paid the ultimate price for freedom. SSG Angel Mercado still lives with me in my heart and watches over us every single day. Please say a prayer for those that have laid there life on the alter of freedom. So now more than ever, I can truly say that I have an Angel watching over me.

I was shipped off to Landstuhl, Germany the next day in a C-17 that was loaded with the best hospital equipment you can imagine.  I was on my way back to safe soil. I started to talk to my mom a lot more and told her that I was going to make it. I finally took a shower after 12 days, I'm sure I smelt like something very rotten. The fact that I had lost a buddy and that my whole life changed in a matter of seconds had not really hit me.

In the next few weeks I would do small tasks like pull myself up, hold a fork, eat, and sleep. It was hard to swallow after all that I have accomplished and been through. Life is not always an easy road, you are going to be faced with obstacles. Its not really what type of obstacles you are faced with, its the manner in which you overcome those obstacles that shines light on the true person that you are. I finally was flown into Andrews AFB in Washington, DC to start my road to recovery. My mom met me on the tarmac with an Army Liaison from my unit. I was glad to see her, I was glad I was home, I was glad I was alive and I was glad I was away from that damn itchy wool blanket.

I want to thank my wife Courtney, my Mother, my family, my mortar teammates, and GallantFew as they support me in doing this. I could not be where I am today with out the loving support of these very important people. I really feel that God was watching over me and my teammates that day. This adventure has opened so many doors for me and has truly made me humble in my life. If you have had another chance at life I challenge you to talk about it and to share your experiences with others. This blog is a collaboration of my thoughts and feelings of what I was faced with on this day and by no means is it perfect.

On September 2, 2006 we lost 2 more guys in a different attack but on the same objective. My heart goes out to these men and there families who still mourn there loss today,  RIP PFC Justin Dreese and SGT Ralph Porras.

Stay tuned for more as I start my long road to recovery, God Bless.

Jay Erwin