I knew it was going to be one of those days the second we rolled outside the wire. It was midday, and a thick black column of smoke rose above the city from a fire somewhere in the urban sprawl. I was now the tactical commander for the lead Stryker in our convoy, meaning I had to get us where we needed to go and get us back home, navigating the streets of the city and not getting us dead in the process. Usually I was given some grids on a USB drive that I would plug into a Panasonic Toughbook, which also had this black hockey puck GPS plugged into it. I would upload the grid or enter it manually, then see where we were going in relation to our own icon, which moved in near-real time.
In other cases, I was having to improvise on the fly, as we didn’t have time for a brief or even handing off a grid location. I would have to enter that information into the computer on the way out of the gate, and more than once I rolled out of the gate without any information whatsoever and just started driving into the city until someone finally told me where the target was. Once we got out there, more often than not, new grids would be coming in for follow-on missions.
This was one of those days where I was just driving us into a general location, looking around for this asshole terrorist. We pretty much drove straight toward the column of smoke coming from the east end of the city. We pulled up near a flat, open area while we waited for the intelligence to be developed so we could, as the officers put it, “prosecute some more targets.” Now I could see the source of the smoke—it was a Stryker belonging to one of the conventional units. Flames were belching out the back of the Stryker, with rounds or some type of explosive cooking off inside. Other Strykers were driving around the area like bats out of hell. Whatever unit got hit was clearly in a panic.
One of the Strykers pulled up alongside mine, and a young first lieutenant shouted over to me, exasperated, “Can you pull security on this area for me?” He wanted me to keep guns and eyes on the area to keep it secure from any enemy fighters who might show up.
“I can while I’m here,” I told him. “But we could be rolling at any moment. We have our own mission.” I felt pretty shitty about that. This guy clearly needed some assistance. About five minutes later, we got the word and were rolling. Our convoy split into two elements, three Strykers in each. The two elements would situate themselves at either end of bridge, one stretching across the river on the north side of town.
My three Strykers went over to the west side of the bridge and prepared to intercept the HVT when he crossed. On my Stryker was one assault team and Sergeant Van Aalst. The middle Stryker was the medical evacuation vehicle, or MEV, where the medic was. The third Stryker had Kap’s assault team and Lieutenant Fleming onboard. When we drove down the off-ramp, we would go into a loiter or lager route, which meant we would basically just drive in circles until we got word from higher to intercept our man before he made it across the bridge.
It was midday, and the streets were packed with traffic. If we received word that our target was en route, we would never be able to get back onto the highway or to the bridge in time due to the congestion on the streets. Sergeant Van Aalst came over the net and instructed me to turn our three-vehicle convoy around and park underneath the overpass. That way, we would just have to make a sharp turn onto the on-ramp, roll right up to the bridge, and be ready to nail this guy.
I did as I was told and maneuvered us under the overpass and stopped. I was cocky to the point that I just sat up on top of the lip of the hatch, totally exposed, while I waited for further instructions. We sat there in that position for perhaps 10 minutes; then, all of a sudden, there was an explosion right behind me. The sharp sound of it pounded in my ears, a pressure wave washing over me from behind. A cloud of gray smoke that had the smell of sulfur wafted around me. I looked back but didn’t see anything and reached for the Mk47. I was also instructing my RWS gunner to maintain frontal security with the .50 caliber.
“Get security up!” one assault team leader yelled at me from inside the Stryker.
For fans of the New York Times best-sellers “The Last Punisher” and “Lone Survivor,” a heart-pounding military memoir from a former Army Ranger sniper and Special Operations weapon sergeant-turned-journalist about the incredible highs and devastating lows of his career.
Growing up in small New York towns, Jack Murphy knew he wanted to lead a life far from the ordinary—a life of adventure and valor. After the 9/11 attacks, he immediately enlisted in the Army, knowing this was his chance to live the life he desired and fight for a cause he staunchly supported. After making it through the rigorous Ranger Indoctrination Program, he graduated sniper school and was promptly deployed to Afghanistan, where his experiences went from ordinary to extraordinary.
In this gripping military memoir, Murphy recounts the multiple missions he underwent as a Ranger, a Special Forces weapons sergeant, and ultimately, a boots-on-the-ground journalist. From enemy ambushes, dodging explosives, crashing terrorists’ weddings, and landing helicopters in the streets of Mosul, Jack provides a hard-hitting glimpse of what combat is like in some of the world’s most dangerous, war-torn places. With tours of duty in two of the most decorated units of the armed forces, Murphy brings a unique perspective to the military genre as he reflects on his great triumphs and shattering failures both on and off the battlefield.
Later, Murphy turned his attention to breaking news within the military. His stories have taken him from Iraq to Switzerland, from Syria to South Korea. From crossing Middle Eastern borders in the dead of night, to rolling into an IED-laden zone, Murphy’s stories are always a thrill a minute.
All pictures courtesy of the author