It’s Tuesday September 7, 2021. As we get closer to 9/11 memories flood my brain. Shadows that whisper memories of times past. In 2015 I was enrolled in Saint Leo University to complete my MBA. The Student Veterans Association sponsored an essay contest of an experience from your military career. My wife goaded me into writing one, she said it would help get some things out. And to an extent she was right. That said i still deal with the anguish and guilt I felt and carry to this day of not being able to do more. The point of the story is this ” We all struggle with our demons and sometimes it helps to put them to paper if we can’t talk to someone about them”. That said I always encourage my fellow veterans to seek out each other or appropriate counseling to get you that extra mile. Strength and Honor/ Domino Mother F*****.
No One Left Behind
Even today over 12, years have passed and this day continues to be seared into my memory. On March 23, 2003, a convoy of the United States Army’s 507th Maintenance Company and the 3rd Combat Support Battalion elements, made a wrong turn and were ambushed near Nasiriya. The convoy was supposed to detour around the town and instead turned directly into it, eventually running into an ambush. The convoy came under attack by heavy enemy fire. Of 33 soldiers assigned to the convoy 11 paid the ultimate price that day while 7 of their fellow soldiers became prisoners of war.
At that same time a Military Intelligence Detachment of the 5th Special Forces Group was monitoring communications traffic and noted raw footage being aired via Al-Jazeera. One of my fellow analysts noted that one of the soldiers was from Texas and his wife was somewhere in a convoy in country and from Texas. Our hearts sank and we began to pull together analysis and intelligence products. The video footage was sickening; it showed deceased soldiers in a white room. Some with multiple bullet wounds to the torso and head. One of the Iraqis playing to the cameras of Al-Jazeera put his foot over the head of one of the corpses; he maintained a big grin for the camera. I nicknamed him smiley.
Prior to the invasion, we had prepared multiple intelligence packages for our assigned ODAs’, noting historical and current enemy data. From our analysis, the only place for them to take the POWs to was a location that had been used by Sadaam Hussain’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid irreverently known as “Chemical Ali”.
Communication had been quick in coming from Marines and our ODAs’ that were collocated with them near Nasiriya. There were reports of an Iraqi claiming that an American was being treated at the hospital in Nasiriya. Our analysis continued feverishly scraping together anything and everything we could to hand off for a possible rescue. We believed in an ethos that no one would be left behind. We briefed our Commander who briefed higher elements regarding our intelligence. Our story returns to the Iraqi who claimed to have seen the POW. Located with our unit were strategic intelligence assets. Those assets were able to piece together a gym bag with camera to gather bona fides regarding the presence of the American soldier. The bag was passed to the Iraqi, who diligently went through the hospital noting doors and exits and visual identification of the American POW PFC Jessica Lynch. We continue our analysis of the area as we prepare a Target Intelligence Packet to hand off to operators for a possible rescue. The hospital in Nasiriya like 7 other hospitals in Iraq had been built by a German construction firm and where all cookie cutter designed. It consisted of a main clinic building and an adjoining bed tower. Later imagery would be provided by UAV assets showing the hospital and behind it buried just beneath the earth were 11 mounds one for each of the deceased soldiers.
The rest we can call history, early in the morning of April 1, 2003 PFC Jessica Lynch was rescued by a Special Operations Task Force from Nasiriya Hospital. Seven days later her fellow soldiers along with two Apache pilots escaped from Iraqi custody during the rout on Baghdad.
The Iraqi was described as a 32-year-old lawyer, initially described only as “Mohammed” and later identified as Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief. In light of Mohammed’s role in Lynch’s rescue, he and his family were granted refugee status by the United States.
Thinking back on that moment in time makes me think of excellence in how we worked as professionals to locate a fellow soldier, respect for the sanctity of human life, and integrity, as we refused to leave anyone behind.