Before my time in Special Operations Forces (SOF), I was mechanized infantry. We rode on these large armored personnel carriers known as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The Bradley, with its armor protection, is designed to transport infantry or scouts while providing covering fire to suppress enemy troops and armored vehicles. The Bradley holds a crew of three (a commander, a gunner, and a driver) and six fully equipped soldiers that are commonly referred to as dismounts.

I was a Bradley gunner, having gone “true blue” in my most recent gunnery qualification, meaning a perfect score and the best in the company. Much goes into true blue: it requires teamwork from the driver, gunner, and commander. All must be in sync with each other, and then the gunner must shoot perfectly. It’s a huge deal and a great honor to carry.

Bradley Fighting Vehicles
Two Bradley Fighting Vehicles from 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, wait to begin shooting pop-up targets during STRIKE BACK 19 at the Bulgarian Land Force’s Novo Selo Training Area June 14, 2019.

In early 2003 we deployed to Iraq, and my crew was going to be point and lead the ground force commander, LTG William Wallace, to Baghdad.

It was cold at night, enough to make you put on a jacket, and hot during the day. Sometimes it was so hot that the armored vehicle burnt you. We’d joke about putting eggs on it to fry, but well… no raw eggs in MREs.

We drew our brand new vehicles from the war stock and got them ready for battle. I was issued a massive roll of giant maps. I was 21 years old, a specialist, with a huge responsibility. Having been at it for a few years, I was comfortable with the task and knew my team had my back.

‘You Can’t Leave!’ Yelled the Sentry

We got to the gate, and the gate guard stopped us. “You can’t leave!” yelled the sentry. “We aren’t coming back,” I yelled in response. The look of confusion on his face was priceless, and we exited the camp and headed to the border.

We were lined up in lane 10 on the border and waited. One hundred eighty thousand troops were lining up for the race to Baghdad. We learned that SF Teams had gone in before and would be in Tacoma trucks so we had to be careful.