The year was just shy of 2008, it was two weeks until Christmas and I was a month into the winter rotation in Mosul, Iraq with the 5th Special Forces Group. My team and I were a part of a unit known as A/1/5 CIF, or the Commanders In-extremis Force, and we were young.

A/1/5 was a Green Beret unit specifically trained in advanced direct action missions to capture or kill high-level terrorist targets as well as hostage rescue. We were combined into a joint task force consisting of a company of Rangers, SEALs, and elements of Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) elite Delta Force to hunt down and destroy al-Qaeda and its leadership in the Iraq insurgency, mostly in and around the city of Mosul and within the Nineveh Providence.

It was 4 p.m. local time, which meant it was 4 a.m. to us, due to the team adopting what we called the “reverse sleep cycle.” We rested during the day so we could own the night while we hunted bad guys.

I had yet to do my morning rituals as I reached for the satellite phone on its charger; I had just messaged my then-girlfriend to ask if she was free for a quick call. We made pleasantries and she asked me how my night had been.