Battle of Donkey Island Part 2

1 March 2013
BODI – Part 2

I have been asked more than a few times if I ever thought I was going to die or thought death was imminent while serving in combat. The answer is “No.” However, on numerous occasions I had thought to myself “If I am ever going to be killed, this would be a situation in which I might.” I was confident in my abilities. I was confident in the abilities of my platoon. If Al Qaeda was going to get the jump on me, they were going to have to be the best because my platoon was great, if not the best, and I believed in their abilities to wreak havoc. And it wasn’t because they were Cavalry Scouts… We had Commo guys and Medics that were part of the team. Your job in the military doesn’t matter; it’s what you do to benefit the team that counts. And they all kicked ass the night of June 30, 2007.

I mounted back up into my truck after cross-leveling ammunition to Red Platoon I gave my crew a quick run-down. Jimm was on the radio giving orders to sections of trucks. Alpha Section would move south and orient their trucks to interdict movement south of the engagement area while another section was to move with the Company Commander that just so happened to be leaving to conduct a patrol himself. We effectively set a half moon cordon of vehicles around the engagement area with the Euphrates River to the backs of the enemy. Smack in the center were the two large semi-trucks.

With everyone set, Jimm made the call to assault through the objective towards the river to clear any remaining enemy. As our trucks crept toward the vehicles we received small arms fire from its vicinity and witnessed four enemy Soldiers bounding back to cover. Jimm ordered his gunner to engage the cab of the truck to destroy it, and the .50 Caliber Armor Piercing Incendiary rounds did just that and some… The truck quickly caught fire. Munitions in the back of the trailer began to cook off. Mortar rounds, IEDs, and small arms began to explode and the fire, becoming increasingly larger, began to wash out our night vision. With the rounds cooking off and our inability to see, the call was made to move back a few hundred meters and wait for the fire to burn out. We backed up our trucks and waited.

By this time, two Apache gunships had arrived on station and conducted check-in. Jimm, along with Red 7 were giving him situation reports on what was going on. One of the Apache Crews were conducting their last patrol; giving the new unit a tour of the area. They were soon headed back home to Texas after a long deployment. Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Purtee was one of the pilots with Chief Warrant Officer Allen Crist as the gunner, or what they call the “Front Seat-er.”

As we were sitting and watching the fire grow, I received the second worst radio transmission a leader can receive. “Saber 7, my gunner lost his rifle.” I wanted to flip out, but we had bigger fish to fry. I called back to the JSS and let them know what happened. They left one guy on the radio and took our two satellite operators and left the JSS on a dismounted patrol to find it. Luckily for the crew, the weapon was found at the first turn out of the JSS. The gunner had set it on top of the truck and in the hurry to leave the JSS, failed to secure it inside his truck as they left.

The fire began to intensify and the Apache’s began to engage a few targets of opportunity. One of those “opportunities” happened to be about 50 meters from my truck. The 40mm High-Explosive rounds going off so close, without warning, startled the hell out of me and my gunner. The Apache’s were reporting numerous hot-spots through their thermal vision but with the sheep, donkeys, exploding shrapnel from the trucks, and the enemy laying still, it was tough to determine what was what. And then the largest explosion I have ever witnessed happened. The two trucks went up in ball of flame, so large and intense it knocked the UAV’s thermal vision out of commission. With the fire now subsided by the explosion we assaulted east, and all hell broke loose.

We started receiving heavy small arms, RPG, and grenade fire from various distances. My gunner, “Boots” began to open up with his M240 machine gun. The irrigation ditches and terrain didn’t allow us to remain on line and forced us to follow each other “ducks in a row” to move east. “OVER THERE, OVER THERE, I SEE KNUCKLES” yelled my medic that sits behind the driver. “WHERE IS THERE?” came from my gunner. An explosion rocks near the back of Jimm’s truck; an RPG had just missed him. Tracer fire everywhere as we continued our push. Boots was smoking the hell out of the enemy as we finally reached the bank of the river. I look back at Doc and ask him “What the hell is Knuckles?” “You know, when a guy is running and pumping his fists as he runs… I saw his knuckles.” I placed this brief conversation into the memory bank to remember to re-train target designation.

We hit the bank of the river and moved south to clear buildings and tents. Our hope was to catch those that had possibly been injured or were seeking safe haven from some of the locals. As we began to clear the second building my element providing security outside came under heavy automatic fire. One of the basic rules when on patrol is if you hear the gun firing, you are not the target. However, if you hear the crack of the round as it breaks the sound barrier passing you, and THEN you hear the gun, take cover. I don’t remember hearing the machine gun, but I do remember us getting pelted with bullets and the hundreds of small sonic “Cracks” as the bullets flew past us. Everyone dove back into their trucks and we moved back towards the engagement area with everyone’s gunners lighting up Donkey Island, as well as the Apache Gunships.

Pain 6, our Company Commander, along with Saber 9 and his section began their assault south to clear along the river bank from the northern side of the engagement area. The river level had dropped about 8 feet from its levels during the winter. This created a perfect 6 foot cliff along the road for the enemy to use as cover while the trucks moved south. Pain 6 and his dismounts would clear along the river bank as the mounted element moved in conjunction to provide mounted machine gun fire. As Pain 6’s element cleared the river bank they became pinned down by the overwhelming enemy fire. The net was heavy with traffic as Red 7 and the Apaches were talking about targets. Through a break in the chaos on the net, I overheard Pain 6 say that he was pinned down and unable to move. I don’t think anyone but myself had heard it as conversations continued about what the Apache needed to be doing. “BREAK BREAK BREAK, this is Saber 7, we have a commander pinned down and unable to move. THAT needs to be our priority right now” I yelled over the net. And what was said next, depending on who you ask, is up for debate, but I know what I heard.

“This is Saber 9, my gunner has been shot in the face, he’s done.” Everyone in my truck stopped and we all looked at each other. “Did he just say Jamal is dead?” asked my driver. “No, he’s shot, but not dead” was my reply, but now that my driver had asked, I began to wonder. I wanted to feel bad, but had not time for it. I had to keep my guys focused. “He’s going to be fine, let’s move out.” My job as a Platoon Sergeant now changed from killing bad guys to Casualty Evacuation. I immediately grabbed Saber 1’s section and we maneuvered towards Pain 6’s location.

Pain 6’s element had taken some casualties and we were going to need more than my truck to evacuate the wounded. I got on the Task Force net and immediately requested a MEDIVAC helicopter to pick up Jamal. I was denied. The firefight was too intense, MEDIVAC wouldn’t risk a helicopter. I was livid. I think part of the reason I respect those that work in the Tactical Operations Center is that they have to put up with guys like me on the radio. I didn’t care who was on the other end… I wasn’t afraid to tell them how pissed I was that a bird wasn’t coming.

Specialist Jamal was the gunner on a truck moving south along the river bank. As he was scanning he spotted an Insurgent engage his truck from below him, along the river bank. With the M240 in its mount, he was unable to depress the weapon far enough to fire back. He stood up, pulled the machine gun from its mount and fired while exposing himself from behind his ballistic shield. He killed the insurgent, but took a round in the face. The force of the bullet knocked him back inside his truck.

Near the same time that Jamal had been shot, the dismounted element began to take heavy casualties as well. Specialist T, Corporal A, Sergeant Nick, and Pain 6 had become casualties. SGT Nick took a round to the head but helped SPC T move to a little bit of cover. He then low-crawled back to the nearest truck which happened to be SSG N’s. “Get to the medic, I’ll get SPC T” SSG N ordered. SPC T had been shot multiple times and was pinned down on the river bank, unable to move under his own power. SSG N, under intense machine gun fire, low-crawled to SPC T and asked “Can you walk?” “Does it look like I can walk?” was his reply. SPC T was full of bullet holes. SSG N then drug SPC T back to safety, putting his own life at risk for that of another Soldier.

We arrived at the designated Casualty Collection Point (CCP) and began to load the wounded. I don’t remember if we were under fire or not, but I remember the amazing work of our Medics and my Senior Scout as they were cool, calm, and tending to the wounded.

SGT Nick conducted self aid and wrapped his head wound up. He was going to drive one of the trucks back to Camp Ramadi with one of the wounded. I loaded up CPL A into the back of my truck while Saber 1 loaded up SPC Jamal. We had numerous wounded and we needed to get them back to the Level 2 Aid Station as soon as possible, especially SPC Jamal. He was covered in blood, and barely able to walk, but alive. Each of the trucks we were using for evacuation had problems. Flat tires, power steering pumps were inoperative due to bullet holes, or windows that could barely be seen out of due to spiderwebs that were created by bullets. That wasn’t all…

We again had problems with the terrain. We were in an area that we had only been in a few times and it was during the day. This time it was pitch black out. It seemed every turn we took led us into a square 100 meter field with no exit. I was like a giant maze that we were trying to find the exit to, only this time, lives were at stake. We turned into one and slammed into an embankment that sent my gunner flying into his weapon. The force was so hard that his feet came up off the ground and hit the windshield. Groans from CPL A in the back were constant. He was holding up, but the rough terrain and bumpy ride were killing his bullet wounds that had broken his ankle.

The net had been silent for a while… Not normal… One look at my radios and I noticed that they had overheated. Great! Another thing to shit the bed…. First the weapon, next was wounded Soldiers, no MEDIVAC bird, now my radios go out? What else could go wrong? I will tell you: my transmission takes a shit. It was like the truck wouldn’t go fully into gear, like a clutch was slipping. We had no power to move over any rough terrain. Any small hill needed a running start… The frustration could be heard in my driver’s voice as I would yell commands at him. I had to calm down, yelling wasn’t helping anything. I was starting to get light headed. We had been going hard for a few hours and I needed some water but our truck didn’t have any; we threw out the cooler full of water to make room for the casualties. Time was running out for SPC Jamal. Something needed to be done. I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. That’s when two bad ass National Guardsmen took a chance.

4 thoughts on “Battle of Donkey Island Part 2

  1. It is awesome that you have taken the time to document this properly. You are all a bunch of BAMF’ers! 1-77 kicking ass and taking names.

  2. My goodness, what a story! I can see why it has been hard for you to write this. Keep up the good work. IMHO it helps us civilians understand a wee bit of what you soldiers have been through. I hope it helps you also as you write this, to carry this part of your life with you a little easier. Blessings and waiting for part 3.

  3. James – You actually had two crews from Texas. We were doing our orientation rides with two new crews from the active duty unit replacing us. Your first team was led by CW4 Jim Nix & CW3 Trent Lewis. They helped you torch the trucks and were the ones who showed you, up close and personal, how the gun sounds on the sending and receiving ends. Jim came to a hover, something we rarely did, to make sure he could accurately engage the trucks with you guys danger close. His helicopter was damaged pretty significantly as a result. A hovering helicopter under a full moon is an easy target. Trent had a mouth full of glass from the broken canopy, which was pretty funny.

    I was several miles away when the fireball from the trucks went up. I asked Jim if he was still there after the explosion. He was, of course. He had to leave based on the damage to the helicopter so my team took over.

    I distinctly remember the call about Pain 6 being pinned down. Allen found him and we flew very slowly over him in the hopes of giving him the opportunity to get to cover. Allen then, without telling me, fired the gun into the river beyond Pain 6. It startled me, and I’m sure Pain 6’s heart stopped. Apologize to him for us. We knew exactly where he was and Allen’s intent was to give him cover. I’ve always hoped for the opportunity to explain that to him.

    Great blog about the most satisfying night of my life. You’re a really good writer.


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