I’m going to tell you a story. A true story about a great Ranger friend and his experience overseas in combat as a medic. In the special operations world it is hard enough being a door-kicker, or assaulter, or shooter, or whatever the hell you want to call it. But the toughest job in my opinion is being the guy who even the hardest men scream for when they lay broken and battered in the dirt on a far away objective in some shit hole corner of the world – the Ranger medic.
My good friend shared a story with me, which I now want to share with you.
“Hey Doc, wake up!”
I didn’t even finish saying “I wasn’t sleeping” – the door slammed shut and Josh had moved on to wake up the next “CHU.” A CHU was an 8×8 cell, similar to a Conex box, that we lived in while working in Tikrit, Iraq. It stands for “Containerized Housing Unit.” NCOs and officers got their own, while the privates typically had to double up. Even with two overgrown Ranger privates in an 8×8 room, it was still hands down the best living conditions that I had experienced on any of my deployments. These kids today just don’t know how good they have it.
This must be important, Josh usually talks shit for at least a couple of minutes. I glance over at the clock. It’s 16:00, so most of our guys were just waking up. I poked my head out of the door to see a handful of guys headed to the makeshift plywood JOC facility (Joint Operations Command).
“Come on Doc, let’s go. Mission brief in 5.”
As usual, I had no clue of what was going on. Somehow the medic always seems to evade the chain of information passed through the platoon. I decide that shower shoes aren’t the best footwear choice for this occasion and quickly get dressed.
I walk in just in time to not get more than a dirty look from my platoon sergeant. I half-heartedly listen while a certain officer for whom most everyone in our company had a great disdain babbled on about two guys in a safe house that would be our primary kill/capture objectives. We would fast rope in utilizing MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. He said some other things, but honestly, I was hungry and this routine wake up call was the equivalent of a college student shutting off a ringing alarm clock. We had only been on this deployment for a month and had already executed dozens of successful direct action missions.
Wheels up time was to be at 19:00. “Wheels up” referred to the helicopter lifting off the ground. So by the time that medal-hungry Major finished his bloviating, we would have a little under two hours to eat and get our mission essentials together. For me, that meant making sure that I had plenty of snacks in what I referred to as my “moral pouch.” I’m telling you right now that a watermelon jolly rancher is better than Christmas morning to a six-year-old when you’ve been on an objective for two days! I will also tell you that half of being a good medic is about keeping up the moral of your guys. When we were the Quick Reaction Force for Operation Red Wings, I handed out a lot more candy than I did trauma medicine!
The boys from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) picked us up right on time, which as usual was just past sundown. Those guys are about as nocturnal as they come and more than once I was grateful for their outstanding ability to operate under the dark of night.
The feeling of letting your feet dangle out of the door of a Black Hawk helicopter a couple of hundred feet off the deck is unmatched. On this day however, I was pushed to the back jump seat, which meant that I would be one of the last guys on the ground. Upon landing on the objective area, Josh moved his fire team to the front door as the Black Hawk pulled away, showering us all with BB-sized pebbles and debris from the open field that we had recently landed in.
We were less than 100 meters to the target house as we began to advance. Second squad was approaching from the side of the building. Weapons squad was set in a blocking position behind the target house in the event that anyone attempted to run, we called them “squirters.” As we moved closer to the tiny house in the middle of the field, that’s when it happened.
I felt the heat from the blast from 40 meters away, everything was white and sound was reduced to a high-pitched buzzing, and then silence. There was nothing. Time stopped. I wait to hear someone scream out for the medic. I wait for something, anything. Every ounce of air had been drawn from me as I wait, a lifetime in that single breath, I wait.
As my eyes regained focus I realize that the blast came from the exact position that second squad was just in. The predator drone feed would later show the blast’s heat pattern completely white out the screen and erase the six Rangers that stood within a couple of meters of the suicide bomber position. Air rapidly enters my lungs the way it does after you’ve been held under water a little too long.
I look immediately to my platoon Sergeant and we run. Not to cover, not to safety – but directly at that shack of a house, in the middle of that field, in the middle of nowhere.
Continue reading Memoir of a Ranger Medic, Part 2