“Wrap it up boys, we’re moving!” shouted one of the leaders on the ground.
“P” had grabbed up Kopps’ assault bag full of ammo and took up a position in front of me. The men from Kopps’ machine gun squad proceeded to carry him out. With two tourniquets wrenched tightly on his upper thigh, still losing blood and occasionally drifting in and out of consciousness, the team waded through the ravine. I placed myself behind the men, ensuring that if anyone were to ambush us from our six o’clock, I would either take the round or eliminate the threat.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, the type of feeling you get when you’re walking in the dark by yourself as a child lingered over me. I was completely exhausted, I hadn’t eaten a good meal in almost a week. My muscles were tightening up in my lower back and legs as I tried to stay as low as I could in the water, as the incoming rounds snapped overhead and impacted the muddy walls a few feet from my face.
I had accepted the fact that I was probably going to die. For some reason I didn’t care anymore, I was more frustrated than anything else. I couldn’t stand watching my guys get hit and scream; the sound of them screaming was blood-curdling.
Every few feet we had to move in the water, the men carrying Kopp would have to submerge him completely. I remember seeing the color of his skin turn pale and the guys trying to keep him awake. Rage and emotion came over me to a point where I almost couldn’t control it. I heard him continuing to talk back to his mates, curse out of frustration because he wasn’t in the fight, and apologize for getting hit. I knew Rangers were tough men, but this was a level of toughness I hadn’t seen before. I felt as if I couldn’t move fast enough through the thick mud at the bottom of the ravine. With every leg movement I made, it felt as if I was carrying 200 pounds of equipment.
“Come on bro, we got this shit,” P shouted at me as he looked back, struggling to swim in the now chest and neck-deep water.
I could hear the rounds impacting behind and overhead, snapping trees limbs. The men carrying Kopp had it the worst. They were not able to engage, and carrying well over 1,000 rounds of machine gun ammo, only relying on myself and “P” to engage enemy for them as we made our way 300 meters to a safe house.
If it weren’t for the amount of training and the daily 6-8 mile runs, weekly “long” runs, and monthly 15-18 mile ruck runs, I’m not sure any of us would have made it.
“Get up here snipers!” the ground commander shouted, instructing us to push up to the front of the formation.
“You guys are up first. Get into the safe house and provide cover for the rest of us!”
“Roger that!” I replied.
I grabbed up “P” and looked at the open 50 meter terrain we would first have to maneuver through before getting through the main gate of the house. I looked over at “P” and pounded his fist.
As we climbed over the 4-foot embankment and pushed through the brush, I could see the building. We ran as fast as we could, crisscrossing each other as we headed for the large 10 foot blue painted doors that surrounded the mud house.
As we got closer to the door, “BRRRRRRRRRRRR!” and the ground began to shake.
I fell on my face and took cover. “Irv!” “P” ran over shouting and grabbing me, thinking I had been hit.
As I looked up at him getting back on my feet, he says to me, “It’s our guys.”
At that split second, all I could do was laugh. The sound that we heard was the awesome sound of cover fire. There were six Rangers from the assault force on a rooftop firing every gun they had in their arsenal. The sounds of 7.62 and 5.56 machine guns unleashing all at once no more than eight feet over our heads caused the ground to shake. I thought we had been ambushed from an army of Taliban.
As we sprinted through the doors, drenched in heavy wet clothing, we were greeted by the Ranger assault force commander.
“Get high up, we need the snipers to pick these guys off!” he instructed us.
These were the words I had been waiting to hear all day.
“P” and I ran over to the nearby mud house and climbed a ladder on the rear side that one of the locals had left behind. The men who had lain down covering fire met us with smiling faces and a large pile of smoking hot brass around them.
The sun had now reached its highest point in the Afghan sky, and the temperature rose above 120 degrees. The bottom of my combat boots started to torch my feet as I laid down behind my rifle observing targets in the distance. As much as it burned, the overwhelming amount of targets I was now able to see through my 10 power scope shut out all other feeling.
I wasn’t sure what would happen if I shot my rifle after it had been submerged. “Screw it,” I thought to myself. I focused in on a target almost half a mile from our position carrying an AK-47 with ammo draped over his shoulder. I wasn’t sure how much I had to lead him with my scope because I wasn’t sure how fast he was running. “P” was busy working on a target with his .300 Win. Mag. and I didn’t want to bother him.
I figured I would lead my target by 3.5 MILs to start off with, and watch the impact of the bullet hit the ground, which would allow me to make a correction. I reached up and dialed 23 minutes of angle on the elevation of the scope. With each click I made on the scope, the target began to slow down. As his pace came to a halt, a slight grin grew on my face. “I got you now,” I thought out loud. Slowly pulling the trigger back as the center of my reticle lay on the center of his chest, I noticed the heat mirage pick up at a steep angle. Before the shot broke, I adjusted for the wind indicated by the mirage.
As the shot broke, I saw the tail end of the vapor trail from the bullet fly down range and sink into the target’s upper chest cavity. The bullet hit him with such force it caused his man dress to fly open, exposing the bullet wound. The impact looked like an 18-wheeler truck going 100 mph hit him. His rifle flew from his hands as he fell backward into the powdery dirt.
As fast as he hit the dirt, two of his friends came in to retrieve his body and drag it off behind a small mud hut. I didn’t engage the men. Instead, I shifted my scope to the left, focusing on a long road. I could see groups of men exiting a white vehicle, all carrying AK-47s. The distance was too far for me to engage them, so I shouted over to “P”, “Hey, hit the guys in the white car!”
I knew that the shot would be a tough one, it was well over 1100 yards, but I figured the sound of a .300, 190 grain bullet snapping in their direction would keep them out of the fight.
“MEDIVAC is in route!” was the transmission coming over my radio. The Army’s best helicopter pilots were coming in to extract the wounded. My team on the roof continued to engage the enemy to the best of our abilities for hours. We had to keep focus on the amount of ammo we had with each shot we put down range. It got to the point where I asked one of the machine gunners to take off a strip of ten rounds from his belt of ammo hanging from his MK-48. The rounds were becoming scarce, and a whole new fear set in.
Over the top of the trees in the distance, I could see the MEDIVAC hauling in. As the helicopter approached, we shifted fire to avoid sending a stray round in their direction. Even under the AK-47 fire, the helicopter landed in-between our position and the enemy, absorbing any potential incoming rounds as a few men carried and assisted the three wounded Rangers. As quickly as they came in, they were off, flying them to the nearest hospital. As for us, the fight continued.
“ALAH HU AKBAR!”
I quickly looked over my shoulder behind me and over the tall wall that surrounded the house. There were four men that had managed to get within a few feet from the outside of the wall. They were so close that I could see the features on their faces and the dirt smudged under their eyes. I got the attention of the guys on the roof and signaled to them that we would take them out all at once before they were able to gain entry. “I got the guy in the button shirt!” I yelled to my guys. They all quickly replied back to me identifying which target they had.
“3, 2, 1…” With one loud “BOOM”, the targets crumbled and fell to the ground as they were all engaged. I remember the target being so close in my scope, that I could see the detail in one of his buttons on his shirt as I squeezed the trigger.
“Immediate extract needed! Immediate extract needed our location!” came over the net, calling to a Marine F.O.B. nearby.
“Negative. You guys have to come to us. We cannot go into that area with anything less than a Brigade. We will position near your location south. Over.” The Marines responded.
“Let’s get ready to move out boys!”
I was in disbelief. We had been in the area with a small team of Rangers in a firefight from hell, surrounded, and at some points almost overrun.
The plan for our extraction was as simple as it could get. We had to run to the Marines in Humvees a-waiting us on a nearby hill overlooking our location almost a mile away! I remember thinking to myself in a sarcastic tone, “I swear I’ve seen this before…oh yeah, Black Hawk Down.”
As my team climbed down from the rooftop and gathered with the remaining Rangers on the ground, “P” and I checked our magazines to see how much ammo we had left. We were both down to our last mag. “P” had around 12 rounds left, while I was down to my last 10 out of the 200 plus rounds we started off with. All I could imagine was running through the enemy, engaging them in hand to hand combat, stabbing them with the large 6-inch Buck knife I carried on my hip.
“Irv, can you put your snipers in front and behind our formation?” the commander asked.
Being the sniper team leader, I wanted to take the front and have “P” pick up the 6. I have to admit, I was a little nervous about what may lay in the open terrain leading to the Marines. The pucker factor was maxed out!
The large blue doors opened and I started to run. My body was drained from not only the five-day operation, but from the half-day firefight we were in. Every time my boot hit the soft dirt, I would look at a different sector, observing where any potential enemy could be. With the sound of the bullets snapping overhead, my pace picked up. The feeling of vomit rising in my throat from overexertion was suppressed from the sight of the awaiting Humvees.
“Get in, Get in, Get in!” We shouted arriving at the vehicles. The expression the Marines had on their faces were almost indescribable. It seemed as if they thought we were crazy for going in the area, but it just goes to show what a group of dedicated men are willing to do for the greater good.
With the captured targets in hand, we packed ourselves in the Humvees like sardines. An entire Ranger assault force and Recon/Sniper team stuffed in four Humvees already packed with Marines. I had managed to cram myself under the feet of the Marine .50 cal gunner with my head resting on my spotter’s knee. The pain I felt from being crushed didn’t bother me, I was just happy we were getting out.
After settling down, debriefing, and preparing to catch a flight back to our compound, the impact of what we went through settled in. Almost all of the guys had multiple bullet holes in their shirts and pants. I had a small bullet hole in the right shoulder of my multi-cam shirt. The reality of what could have happened shocked me to the core.
Two of the men who had been shot on this mission survived. Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, age 21, died from the wounds he suffered after rescuing my six-man team. He was less than two weeks out before shipping back home.