On April 18th, 2003, I was filling in as a .50 gunner in a humvee racing through the streets of Baghdad, actively looking for insurgent activity. My official job was Cavalry Scout on the M3A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Normally, I rode in the Bradley, but because of a hurried mission and the fact that the regular gunner on the command humvee was sick, I had the honor that day.
Our mission was to provide support for a quick offensive. The 3rd Infantry Division was attacking a hot spot called Ar Rasafah on the other side the Tigris near the Armenian church on Yafa Street. Insurgent activity indicated that the area was literally saturated with Fedayeen Saddam.
Just past the church were two mosques that were the focus of our attention. One was Al Gailani Mosque, the other was called Al Khulafa. Insurgents had holed up there and were shooting Rocket Propelled Grenades at the 3rd. We were under strict orders not to damage the mosques. The church sat in an odd cross-roads where roughly 9 streets converged in a circle around the building.
As we neared the cross-roads, I remember that everything was much quieter than I expected. I hunched low behind the armor plating surrounding the gun mount atop the humvee, diligently sweeping my weapon from side to side, searching for movement. I could only hear the clackityklak of the M3 treads against the concrete and the squealing of brake pads as we came to a sudden stop. Corporal Jason Carter, the driver, maneuvered deftly around some debris in order to get the captain in position for a situation report.
As Captain James McHolmes opened his door, I saw a head popup about 45 yards to our right. Before I could get the .50 in position the head popped up again, this time accompanied by an RPG. The humvee was blown over onto the driver’s side, crushing him beneath and blocking the street. Captain McHolmes body ceased to exist. Before the Bradleys could respond, all hell broke loose. It was a trap. The insurgents were in the church, not the mosques, and we had effectively rolled into their front door. The Bradleys moved away from the humvee, looking for cover.
I was alone.
I felt rough hands reach in through the gun canopy and grab me by my equipment harness and start pulling. I took a deep breath and grunted as I turned my broken leg just enough to free it from the hot, dented metal inside the wreckage before being dragged away toward the church. Another hand ripped my M4 from my weakened grasp and I was pulled roughly through the doorway into the church cellar. As my hearing returned, I suddenly, horribly, unbelievingly heard the voices and realized who my two benefactors were. Fedayeen.
I had no weapons.
Although I could not understand what they were saying, I could tell they were shaken. We had actually surprised them, as well. The noise and chaos that followed is still mostly unclear in my mind, but this is what I remember:
For what seemed like an hour, I lay on the floor staring at the two Fedayeen. No one looked directly at me, but one held his rifle on me the whole time. They appeared to be arguing. I heard the Bradleys unleashing TOW missiles outside and the building rocked from the blast. I looked around the room for some path of escape, but my leg was ruined. Then I saw the painting. On the wall in that basement was what I mistook for a child’s cartoon. It was an Icon of Daniel in the lion’s den.
“Lord Jesus, save me,” I prayed.
Almost as soon as I saw the painting, I heard yelling and the Fedayeen both jumped, startled. Three soldiers I didn’t recognize, but assumed were part of the 3rd, burst through a door and shooting began. I closed my eyes and covered my face, afraid I would be struck by a stray round. In a few seconds it was over; the Fedayeen were dead.
A fourth soldier, Sgt. Scott Taylor from my unit, ran in, visibly shaken. I asked him where the other three soldiers were because I needed help walking. He looked at me puzzled, perhaps overwhelmed by the noise of the ambush and the two Fedayeen who had just killed each other.
“Others?”, he said. “Man, I stumbled on you alone.”
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