By Jennifer Woolwine

My First Combat Experience

Military Veterans

baghdad to barnyard

October 11, 2020

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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.

Convoy mission to Kuwait -March 2005

Convoy mission to Kuwait -March 2005

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.

Damage from an Improvised Explosive Device

Damage from an Improvised Explosive Device

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.

My last convoy mission October 2005

My last convoy mission October 2005

According to 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


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    • Michele says:

      Oops. Oh my gosh. So young! What made you decide to enlist? I can’t imagine how difficult that was and continues to be. Thank you for all you do for us!

      • I joined because it was the only way I could afford to go to college. I wanted to join the Navy but my stepbrother teased me relentlessly because he was in the Army and my path changed from Navy to Army. It’s funny how things work out. Thank you for reading my blog.
        XOXO Jennifer

        • Michele says:

          I am so thankful for you and your husband’s service and sacrifice! I am so glad the farm is helping you heal!

          My hubby’s stepfather was in Vietnam and suffers with agent orange amount others things.

          • Thank you. We are so blessed to have the farm. There are so many disabilities related to Agent Orange, I use to work AO claims when I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I hope he is receiving the necessary treatment through the VA. XOXO Jennifer

  1. June Small says:

    I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for us. My uncle was a contractor in Iraq about the time you were there. Not sure you would’ve helped him as he did accounting. Nevertheless he came back changed after spending 6+ years over there. He died last week from complications that we believe were from the burn pits that was so close to where he stayed (of course never confirmed). He said some nights he couldn’t breathe from the smoke. It caused him a great deal of anxiety. When he came home, me and my family would go sing to his memory unit at the VA hospital where he spent his last years. Visiting those men at the VA and living close to Fort Hood has given me a whole new appreciation for what you and so many have done for us. I don’t and will never take it for granted. Thank you and your husband Jennifer…I pray the farm will continue to bring you peace. And hugs to Little Bill…hope he’s getting better! ❤️

    • My heart goes out to you June, I am so sorry for your loss. It is very possible our paths did cross. I can’t imagine what six years did to him, 14 months was enough for me. The burn pits at Camp Anaconda in Balad were the largest in Iraq and I don’t think they closed it until 2 or 3 years after I left. I use to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs and I know there are going to be so many additional disabilities associated with burn pit exposure that we still don’t know about. It happened to Vietnam Veterans with Parkinson’s, heart disease, and diabetes due to Agent Orange exposure. I did my AIT training at Fort Hood and my stepbrother served there. Thank you for reaching out, reading my blog and commenting. I appreciate your support so much. I pray you and your family find some comfort and peace and I am so sorry for your loss. XOXO- Jennifer

  2. Shawn Creamer says:

    My deepest most sincere gratitude and respect to you, your husband, your unit, and all military. It is hard to comprehend what you have been through. I can’t imagine the PTSD. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • It was my please to serve. I am very grateful for the experience and I know this sounds crazy, but I miss it. Maybe that will be something I can share in a post one day. Thank you for reading! I appreciate your support Shawn. XOXO Jennifer

  3. Laura Payne says:

    Thank you for your service Jennifer There is no doubt your story will help other veterans . Our good friends son is a marine and our nephew is leaving for boot camp in November to become a Marine .

  4. Laura Payne says:

    Thank you for your service Jennifer There is no doubt your story will help other veterans . Our good friends son is a marine and our nephew is leaving for boot camp in November to become a Marine .

  5. Deziree K. Bunn says:

    You are amazing. I’m grateful to have the pleasure of knowing you and hope we can get together in the future. ❤️

  6. Deziree K. Bunn says:

    You are amazing. I’m grateful to have the pleasure of knowing you and hope we can get together in the future. ❤️

  7. Teresa Cook says:

    I recently discovered your Instagram account and have absolutely fallen in love with your precious animals, your stories and lovely farm. I just today read about your military service and struggles with PTSD and addiction.
    I so admire your strength, dedication and perseverance in overcoming such huge and daunting hurdles!
    Thank you for your and your husband’s service to our country and thank you for sharing your amazing life on the farm. You inspire me and so many others! ❤️

    • It is our pleasure, we are very grateful for everyone’s support. I am so glad you found my account and enjoy seeing what farm life is like at Little Mountain Ark Farm. I look forward to getting to know you more and thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. XOXO Jennifer

  8. Niki Dee says:

    What an amazing story! Thank to both you and your husband for your service. We are indebted to you both. ❤️

  9. Heather Ranz says:

    Thankful you are here, Jen….and for the service you and your husband and many others have given. What an experience!

  10. bearhaven_va says:

    Jennifer, I am honored to have read this. Thank you for your service. I cannot imagine what it was like to always be alert, to be scanning the terrain, to be the driver and be ready to respond and react to save lives at any moment. The heat and exhaustion. My heart aches reading this. But what an inspiration—your recovery, your partnership with your husband, your amazing farm haven. Such blessings to come from years of heaviness and struggle. Beautiful writing, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing more of your story. Your strength and openness are an inspiration. -Alyson

    • Thank you Alyson! We were involved in some pretty serious ambushes and we are very lucky. I rarely drive because I have severe panic attacks when driving. Obviously I know there aren’t IEDs here, but I am constantly thinking something bad is going to happen and I get freaked out. I think I have driven two or three times in the last five years.. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for commenting. I really appreciate the support friend. Have a lovely Sunday.
      XOXO Jennifer

  11. Denise D says:

    First, thank you for your courage to serve and to share your experience!!
    I can’t begin to imagine the anxiety you had to live in constantly. I truly had tears reading this blog. That is more than anyone should have to experience, and at a young age.
    There are not enough words to thank you and your husband.
    I grew up in a military family. I remember the day my Dad left for Vietnam. The families at home live in fear for their loved ones every day. Your story allows others to experience what you lived daily. It is brave of you to share it.
    I know you have challenging moments. I am glad you chose the farm. I live in the semi country. It brings such a calm to ones soul. I hope it keeps feeding your soul daily. It is time for you to breathe and take in the peaceful moments in a country you help to protect.
    Praying only the best for you.

    • Thank you. I honestly did not think people would be interested in reading about my experiences in Iraq. I have so many other stories to share, so hopefully sharing this one will give me the courage to continue writing them. it is amazing what the country living can do for someone’s mental and physical health. It truly is so peaceful connecting back with nature and feeling closer to God. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my stories and for leaving such a kind comment. Thank you for the prayers as well. XOXO Jennifer

  12. Mary Streit says:

    Thank you for your service Jennifer! And thank you for sharing your story! I believe so many people are disconnected to what really happens in he military and may not fully appreciate the lingering price that service men & women pay. I can only imagine the life experience you have has taught you resiliency.
    I am so glad that you chosen a farm life. So much healing in country living.
    I’ve been enjoying your IG posts and those donkeys!!! .

    • Thank you Mary. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. They shaped who I am today and I wouldn’t have met my husband either. I am so glad you like following my farm life on IG! Thank you for reading my blog friend, I really appreciate the support.

      XOXO- Jennifer

    • I am so glad you enjoy the donkeys. They have brought me so much joy, so I really love sharing them with everyone. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog Mary, I really appreciate it so very much.

      XOXO Jennifer

  13. Heather Hansen says:

    Thanks so very much for sharing your story! I’m having my son read it.

Jen Woolwine       Author

Jen is a combat veteran and wife who is passionate about animal rescue, homesteading, and mental health advocacy. Jen's amazing journey of transitioning from military service to homesteading can be followed on her blog and social media platforms @baghdadtobarnyard.

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