Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Has it been two years?

It has been two years since I was really scared. I was in fear for my life and that of my people. We were under attack from the Madi Militia. We had small arms fire, mortars, and rockets coming in. I had 43 scared people but I knew that I could not cave into my fear and self doubt nor could I show it. I have had many classes and gone through many studies on leadership but nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for that moment. Nothing you have ever done prepares you to make decisions that literally affect life and death. You don't even realize what a watershed in your life you have passed until after it is over.

I made sure everyone called and told their families they were OK but we were so damn vulnerable and I could not sleep. I used my practiced calm voice when ever I spoke with anyone, especially my wife. I did not want her to worry. That is my role. I had to ruck up and lead. I clearly understood that my people just wanted to be told what to do. It was a crisis and they wanted the comfort of being busy. I found lots of work for us to do and it kept them busy. By being busy they did not have time to think about what was going on. They were tired and slept instead of laying awake worrying. I did that. Thank God for Fritz. He was my rock that week and he does not even know it. Every day he started off by telling me that I was handling it and doing well. I think sometimes he lied to bolster me but good NCO that he is, he did what he had to do to keep command in order. His chats and his leadership kept me on track.

We found out that a "Safe Harbor" call had been put out for all convoys to go to the closest FOB and get off the roads. We knew that two were on post. It did not take long to find them. We were also told to be on the lookout for two more who had not checked in. Those two had run into bad trouble and had taken casulaties.

We went to one convoy and bad assed dudes that they were, they refused the general order that had been placed ordering everyone to wear full battle rattle 24/7 until it was safer. They balked at the "Stop Move" order telling them they could not roll outside the gates. While I was explaining how these orders had come down 6 mortars walked in and went right across the airfield about 200 yards from us. They stood there open mouthed saying nothing. I turned and said, "Any more questions?" They all went to their trucks and put their gear on.

We found another half convoy who had turned around when the lead elements came under fire. They were glad to find us. I had them and the other two convoys drop their loads and bring the cabs to our LSA to get inside our secondary perimeter. I made arrangments to have food picked up as I could see that everyone traveling the 2 miles to the DFAC was going to be impossible. We just did not have enough vehicles available.

We kept looking for the other convoy. I kept getting email telling me they were on post. They were in no area we searched. No one had seen them. In particular we were looking for one man who was being reported as missing and then as dead. His truck had been found burned to a crisp and a skeleton inside. They thought it was him. We found him and his convoy mates walking into the DFAC. They were parked behind an unoccupied building and had reported to no one. I got the dead man on the phone and fired out the emails. We were all so happy! I cried a little that night. Some of it was stress relief and some was relief that he was alive. The poor man whose skeleton was found was a TCN driver who had jumped in the truck after his own had been knocked out.

Some of the truckers had lost everything in the trucks that were destroyed. One guy only had the clothes on his back. They lost wallets, passports, money, bags, etc. We collected clothing from our own people to help these men out and my people gave generously.

I called my crews together and gave what was probably the best speech I have ever given. I told them all that we had to do our jobs so that the kids could go out and do theirs. The only way to knock the bad guys in the teeth was to keep the kids going and take care of the things we were contracted to do. That way they did not have to worry and could go out and get the job done. I also told them that everyone volunteered to come here and that anyone could quit when we got some order but that for now they all would work. I told the group that every man wonders what it is like to be at the tip of the sword. We now know. We have been there and we overcame our fears and became different people. I mean that. I am a different person than I was before that week. They are different too and not one of them quit. They all stayed and finished their contracts.

The truckers volunteered to help. God bless them. They busted their asses for two weeks until the roads were safe enough for them to go. We learned to love these guys. When they were ready to roll out we made up certificates for them and took the photo you see here. These are great Americans. They made it through the morass and survived. I feel a kinmanship with them that no one else will ever be able to become a part of. We survived.

The day they left we went to the briefing to hear the plan for the roll out. I have never seen such concentration, determination, and businesslike faces as I saw at that breifing. Everyone from the Junior Grade officers to the Senior NCOs, to the gun truck crews, to our truck drivers knew that they were going to roll in harms way but that nothing was going to stop them, nothing would keep them back, nothing would get in their way.

They contacted us when they made their destination. I breathed out and that night I slept soundly for the first time in weeks.

It has been two years. A lot of people have come and gone. Very few are still here who were part of those terrible two weeks. I guess the one I am most proud of is Joe. Joe is the trucker who was missing and presumed dead. He went home for 30 days and then came back to drive a fuel truck on post. I promised his wife he would not go outside the wire. I kept my promise. Joe still works for me but now in a very different capacity. He is my trusted night shift man. He is the nerve center of our operation at night.

I will sleep soundly tonight. Joe is watching. I know my people are safe.


Anonymous Fritz said...

Man, two years have gone by haven't they! I will never forget the night the CWO came over with his radio so the gang could listen to our side getting some revenge. I know our guests who had just been slapped up along side the head by the "bad guys" really enjoyed hearing the report of the WP hitting target. It was a frightful time and I am sure you have been through a couple more since then. I have to be honest with you and say, I miss it!

As for my being a rock for you, well I appreciate your saying that but believe me now as you did then. I did not have to lie to you about anything. You did a helluva good job with the whole situation and provided the leadership that got us all through a hard time. I have said this to you before, you need to visit Columbus, TX and my old boss from ARAMCO. Former Marine Corp Captain and the one I measure a good boss too. So far you are the only one to have joined him in that exclusive club (other than my wife of course).

Stay safe, stay the course. God Speed.

8:06 AM  

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