My unit’s mission in Iraq was convoy security. Convoy security means we were gun support for civilian contractors all over Iraq and Kuwait. Civilian contractors drove tractor trailers to deliver supplies to military bases and our job was to protect them on their routes to and from destinations. The largest threat to our missions were improvised explosive devices.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are bombs that the enemy would place in the roads, trash, guardrails, fences, animals and even people to stop a military convoy and injure or kill as many Americans as possible.
During our mobilization training we would simulate combat scenarios, such as a vehicle being hit by an IED or rocket propelled grenade (RPG), ambushes, reacting to enemy contact and rendering aid. No matter how much training you receive about how to respond in combat, when it happens for real, everyone reacts differently. All you can do is pray you are not a coward that hides when shit hit the fan.
My responsibilities as a driver on convoy missions included prepping the vehicle for missions, loading and unloading gear, scanning the roads for IED’s and keeping the correct intervals between vehicles. I was also a certified combat lifesaver (CLS). A combat lifesaver is a nonmedical soldier who provides lifesaving measures until a paramedic arrives. Each Humvee has a driver, gunner, and a truck commander. The truck commander oversees navigation and communication between vehicles in the convoy. I would rotate and do all three jobs, but I enjoyed being a gunner the most out of the three. I felt more in control behind a machine gun and not having to worry about running over an IED. However, the gunner is considered the most dangerous position because you are exposed from the chest up. I did not mind driving but I was constantly on edge waiting for a bomb to go off.
We only had two welders in our unit and my husband was one of them. He welded our armor on our vehicles and he saved many lives including mine. I could not imagine what it was like for the soldiers before us with no armor. So many injuries and lives could have been saved if we had the necessary equipment. The windows of our Humvees had over two inches of bulletproof glass. I am alive today, writing this post, because of the recently added armor my husband welded.
It was Friday, May 13, 2005 when I encountered my first combat experience. We had been driving for more than 12 hours and everyone was burned out and exhausted. We had arrived late to our destination and the cafeteria and stores on base were closed. Everyone was cranky, hungry, and we just wanted to get back to our duty station at Camp Anaconda. On missions, we slept in the back of a vehicle, burned out buildings, on the ground, under our trucks, wherever you could find relief from the burning sun. The average temperature in Iraq is 120 degrees Fahrenheit plus factor in 70lbs of gear, it does not take much to wear you down.
During this mission, I was the driver and I was scanning the road for anything that looked suspicious. The roads in Iraq are littered with trash so it can be challenging to find anything irregular going 65mph. The insurgents learned our rules of engagement and they adapted quickly. As drivers we were trained that if we hit an IED or were engaged in enemy contact, the driver’s job is to get everyone safely out of the kill zone.
We were on a road called MSR Tampa and suddenly, a tidal wave of heat hit me, and the loudest explosion went off. I remember hearing glass shattering, debris rained down upon me and everything went black. The first thing I said was “HOLY SHIT!” while closing my eyes and praying that everyone was ok. I pushed on the gas pedal with all my strength. It all happened so fast; I really did not have time to react.
I looked to my Truck Commander who was in the passenger seat and he had this look of disbelief. We all patted ourselves expecting to see blood or finally realizing we had injuries but luckily none of us were injured. I tend to laugh at the most inappropriate times and this incident was no different. I busted out laughing and I guess it became contagious because soon all three of us were hysterically laughing. We were all in shock because we had just survived a roadside bomb.
It was a remote detonated IED attached to a guardrail, so the enemy had set the bomb off with a switch and was close by. The insurgent waited for the right moment and my vehicle was the target. One of the civilian contractors was filming with a camcorder when the IED went off. It was surreal watching it happen to me from a different perspective. I wish I could say that was my only experience with an IED, but it was not. I received a Combat Action Badge, which is a military award given for actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy. I am immensely proud of that medal because it is not an award a lot of females have received.
According to Military.com only 9,000 women have received a combat action badge out of 280,000 women that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was only twenty years old when I went to Iraq and I celebrated my 21st birthday in the middle of a warzone. Most people celebrate their 21st birthday in a club or bar. Even though I had to grow up fast and I witnessed several traumatic events, I would do it again. That experience shaped who I am today, and it strengthened my marriage in multiple ways. David and I have an unbreakable bond that cannot be erased because of what we went through together. We have found solace and peace living a simpler life on our farm. We both struggle with post traumatic stress disorder, but the farm provides a haven that we both desperately need. I look forward to sharing more about our experiences in Iraq and how we transitioned from combat life to farm life in the future. If you have any questions or specific inquiries, please complete the contact form or send me an email. XOXO