Mosul, Iraq—The spring and summer of 2004 in Mosul was fucking terrible. The heat, the gnats, the mortars, and the jihadi hood rats were all out in full force. It made for a less-than-awesome vacation spot. One evening during a particularly vicious nine-day-long mortar and rocket party, the commo guy, Rodolfo, and I were hanging out, just shooting the shit and smoking. The evenings in Mosul were nice: cool sunsets, less bugs flying into your ears and mouth, and a coolish air flowing from the river.

Rodolfo was always talking about how he was going to marry the young female soldier he had met on the base. As a contractor, he was making a shitload of money for being in a combat zone, and was talking about the ring he was going to buy her. He was probably making three to four times as much as most of the soldiers there. Anyway, he was a cool guy, and we would hang out when there was a little down time. He was originally from Guatemala, and still had an accent when he spoke. He loved rap and booty music, and sounded funny when he would try to talk ghetto with a South-American accent.

Around 7:30 p.m., as we stood outside enjoying the sunset and some nicotine, a Chinese-made, 107mm rocket almost took Robert and I to the big house in the sky. Its trajectory was so low, when it flew in and hit the sidewalk a few meters from us, it skipped, sliced through the huge generator we had behind the house, and separated into two pieces. The rocket body, after cutting through the generator and igniting the fuel inside, had stopped just short of flying through the kitchen window. The explosive portion had somehow managed to separate from the rocket body and had landed on the other side of the house in the road. It never exploded. I couldn’t fucking believe what I had just seen. Our immediate reaction should have been to hit the ground and get away from the generator that was now engulfed in flames and burning dangerously close to the house. I think we were in shock.

We stood there for a few seconds, looking at each other and at the generator. Then, reality hit like a Mack truck.

“Holy fucking shit, Sarge!” yelled Rodolfo.

“Dude, grab a fire extinguisher, quick, and I’ll get everyone out of the house!” I yelled back, still in shock.

As I ran past the generator and through the back door of the house, I noticed that some shrapnel had cut through the back door and kitchen window, landing in the kitchen. Luckily, no one was making food or hanging out in there as we would often do. I was starting to wonder when my luck was going to run out. On this trip alone, I had already survived a group of Iraqi police mistaking us for suicide bombers in Kirkuk and almost killing us all, a riot in Mosul, numerous near-miss mortar attacks, and now a fucking 107mm rocket attack so close, I could’ve caught the bitch if my motor skills had been up to par. To this day, I still can’t believe it didn’t explode.

In mid-May, my buddy Jake and I were asked to translate an insurgent video of a hostage suspected of being Nick Berg, the American who had been detained by Iraqi police in Mosul and handed over to U.S. forces. He was released from custody on the 6th of April, was advised by U.S. officials to leave the country, and offered assistance in getting a flight out. He refused, and left FOB Freedom. The Iraqi police allegedly rolled him up because he was travelling around Mosul in the back of taxis with a Qur’an, trying to get in contact with elements of al-Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While on our base, he was suspected of making sketches and gathering information about the base to sell to local insurgents. Turns out, he got what he was looking for and eventually went missing—only to turn up in a beheading video.