“WHAT THE HELL?”
One very hot summer day we took a small apartment building with a good view of one of the major east-west roads through the center of Ramadi. It was four stories high, the staircase lined with windows, the roof open and with a good view of the area. It was a clear day.
Ryan was joking with me as we went in. He was cracking me up—he always made me laugh, made me relax. Smiling, I posted him to watch the road. Our troops were working on a side street on the other side of the roof, and I figured that if the insurgents were going to launch an ambush or try and attack us, they would come down that road. Meanwhile, I watched the team on the ground. The assault began smoothly, with the soldiers taking first one house and then another. They moved quickly, without a snag.
Suddenly, shots flew through our position. I ducked down as a round hit the cement nearby, splattering chips everywhere. This was an everyday occurrence in Ramadi, something that happened not once a day but several times.
I waited a second to make sure the insurgents were done firing, then got back up.
“You guys all right?” I yelled, looking down the street toward the soldiers on the ground, making sure they were okay.
“Yeah,” grunted the other sniper.
Ryan didn’t answer. I glanced back and saw him, still down.
“Hey, get up,” I told him. “They stopped firing. Come on.”
He didn’t move. I went over.
“What the hell?” I yelled at him. “Get up. Get up.”
Then I saw the blood.
I knelt down and looked at him. There was blood all over. The side of his face had been smashed in. He’d taken a bullet.
We had pounded into him the fact that you have to always have your weapon up and ready; he’d had it up and scanning when the bullet hit. It apparently got the rifle first, then ricocheted into his face.
I grabbed the radio. “Man down!” I yelled. “Man down!”
I dropped back and examined his wounds. I didn’t know what to do, where to start. Ryan looked as if he’d been hit so bad that he was going to die.
His body shook. I thought it was a death spasm.
Two of our platoon guys, Dauber and Tommy, ran up. They were both corpsmen. They slipped down between us and started treating him.
Marc Lee came up behind them. He took the 60 and began laying down fire in the direction the shots had come from, chasing the insurgents back so we could carry Ryan down the stairs.
I picked him up and held him up over my shoulder, then started to run. I reached the stairs and started going down quickly.
About halfway, he started groaning loudly. The way I was holding him, the blood had rushed into his throat and head; he was having trouble breathing.
I set him down, even more worried, knowing in my heart he was going to die, hoping that somehow, some way, I might do something to keep him going, even though it was hopeless.
Ryan began spitting blood. He caught his breath—he was breathing, a miracle in itself.
I reached out to grab him and pick him up again.
“No,” he said. “No, no I’m good. I got this. I’m walking.”
He put an arm around me and walked himself down the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, the Army rolled a tracked vehicle, a personnel carrier, up to the front door. Tommy went in with Ryan and they pulled away.
I ran back upstairs, feeling as if I’d been shot and wishing that it had been me, not him, who was hit. I was sure he was going to die. I was sure I’d just lost a brother. A big, goofy, lovable, great brother.
Nothing I’d experienced in Iraq had ever affected me like this.
We collapsed back to Shark Base.
As soon as we got there, I shed my gear and put my back against the wall, then slowly lowered myself to the ground.
Tears started flowing from my eyes.
I thought Ryan was dead. Actually, he was still alive, if just barely. The docs worked like hell to save him. Ryan would eventually be medevac’d out of Iraq. His wounds were severe—he’d never see again, not only out of the eye that had been hit but the other as well. It was a miracle that he lived.
But at that moment at base, I was sure he was dead. I knew it in my stomach, in my heart, in every part of me. I’d put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he’d been shot.
A hundred kills? Two hundred? More? What did they mean if my brother was dead?
Why hadn’t I put myself there? Why hadn’t I been standing there? I could have gotten the bastard—I could have saved my boy.
I was in a dark hole. Deep down.
How long I stayed there, head buried, tears flowing, I have no idea.
“Hey,” said a voice above me, finally.
I looked up. It was Tony, my chief.
“You wanna go get some payback?” he asked.
“Fuck yeah I do!” I jumped to my feet.
A few guys weren’t sure whether we should go or not. We talked about it, and planned out the mission.
I didn’t hardly have time for it, though. I just wanted blood for my guy.
The intel put the bad guys in a house not too far from where Ryan had been hit. A couple of Bradleys drove us over to a field near the house. I was in a second vehicle; some of the other guys had already gone into the house by the time we arrived.
As soon as the ramp dropped on our Bradley, bullets started flying. I ran to join the others; and found them stacking to go up the stairs to the second floor. We were huddled together, facing downward, waiting to move up.
Marc Lee was at the lead, above us on the steps. He turned, glancing out a window on the staircase. As he did, he saw something and opened his mouth to shout a warning.
He never got the words out. In that split second, a bullet passed right through his open mouth and flew out the back of his head. He dropped down in a pile on the steps.
We’d been set up. There was a savage on the roof of the house next door, looking down at the window from the roof there.
Training took over.
I scrambled up the steps, stepping over Marc’s body. I sent a hail of bullets through the window, flushing the neighboring roof. So did my teammates.
One of us got the insurgent. We didn’t stop to figure out who it was. We went on up to the roof, looking for more of our ambushers.
Dauber, meanwhile, stopped to check Marc. He was hurt pretty bad; Dauber knew there was no hope.
The tank captain came and got us. They were engaged the whole way, driving in under heavy contact. He brought two tanks and four Bradleys, and they went Winchester, firing all their ammo. It was shit-hot, a fierce hail of lead covering our retreat.
On the way back, I looked out the port on the back ramp of my Bradley. All I could see was black smoke and ruined buildings. They’d suckered us, and their entire neighborhood had paid the price.
For some reason, most of us thought Marc was going to live; we thought Ryan was going to die. It wasn’t until we got back to camp that we heard their fates were reversed.
Having lost two guys in the space of a few hours, our officers and Tony decided it was time for us to take a break. We went back to Shark Base and stood down. (Standing down means you’re out of action and unavailable for combat. In some ways, it’s like an official timeout to assess or reassess what you’re doing.)
It was August: hot, bloody, and black.
Chris broke down when he called me with the news. I hadn’t heard anything about it until he called, and it took me by surprise.
I felt grateful that it wasn’t him, yet incredibly sad that it was any of them.
I tried to be as quiet as possible as he talked. I wanted just to listen. There have been very few times in his life, if ever, that I’ve seen Chris in that much pain.
There was nothing I could do, aside from telling his relatives for him.
We sat on the phone for a long time.
A few days later, I went to the funeral at the cemetery overlooking San Diego Bay.
It was so sad. There were so many young guys, so many young families. . . . It was emotional to be at other SEAL funerals, but this was even more so.
You feel so bad, you cannot imagine their pain. You pray for them and you thank God for your husband being spared. You thank God you are not the one in the front row.
People who’ve heard this story tell me my description gets bare, and my voice faraway. They say I use less words to describe what happened, give less detail, than I usually do.
I’m not conscious of it. The memory of losing my two boys burns hot and deep. To me, it’s as vivid as what is happening around me at this very moment. To me, it’s as deep and fresh a wound as if those bullets came into my own flesh this very moment.
We had a memorial service at Camp Ramadi for Marc Lee. SEALs from every part of Iraq came in for it. And I believe the entire Army unit we’d been working with showed up. They had a lot of concern for us; it was unbelievable. I was very moved.
They put us on the front row. We were his family.
Marc’s gear was right there, helmet and Mk-48. Our task unit commander gave a short but powerful speech; he teared up and I doubt there was a dry eye in the audience—or the camp, for that matter.
As the service ended, each unit left a token of appreciation—a unit patch or coin, something. The captain of the Army unit left a piece of brass from one of the rounds he’d fired getting us out.
Someone in our platoon put together a memorial video with some slides of him, and played it that night with the movie showing on a white sheet we had hung over a brick wall. We shared some drinks, and a lot of sadness.
Four of our guys accompanied his body back home. Meanwhile, since we were on stand-down and not doing anything, I tried to go see Ryan in Germany, where he was being treated. Tony or someone else in the head shed arranged to get me on a flight, but by the time everything was set up, Ryan was already being shipped back to the States for treatment.
Brad, who’d been evac’d earlier because of the frag wound in his knee, met Ryan in Germany and went back to the States with him. It was lucky in a way—Ryan had one of us to be with him and help him deal with everything he had to face.
We all spent a lot of time in our rooms.
Ramadi had been hot and heavy, with an op tempo that was pretty severe, worse even than Fallujah. We’d spend several days, even a week out, with barely a break in between. Some of us were starting to get a little burned out even before our guys got hit.
We stayed in our rooms, replacing bodily fluids, keeping to ourselves mostly.
I spent a lot of time praying to God.
I’m not the kind of person who makes a big show out of religion. I believe, but I don’t necessarily get down on my knees or sing real loud in church. But I find some comfort in faith, and I found it in those days after my friends had been shot up.
Ever since I had gone through BUD/S, I’d carried a Bible with me. I hadn’t read it all that much, but it had always been with me. Now I opened it and read some of the passages. I skipped around, read a bit, skipped around some more.
With all hell breaking loose around me, it felt better to know I was part of something bigger.
My emotions shot up when I heard that Ryan had survived. But my overriding reaction was: Why wasn’t it me?
Why did this have to happen to a new guy?
I’d seen a lot of action; I’d had my achievements. I had my war. I should have been the one sidelined. I should have been the one blinded.
Ryan would never see the look on his family’s face when he came home. He’d never see how much sweeter everything is when you get back—see how much better America looks when you’ve been gone from it for a while.
You forget how beautiful life is, if you don’t get a chance to see things like that. He never would.
And no matter what anybody told me, I felt responsible for that.
We’d been in that war for four years, through countless hairy situations, and no SEAL had ever died. It had looked like the action in Ramadi, and all Iraq, was starting to wind down, and now we’d been hit terribly hard.
We thought we would be shut down, even though our deployment still had a couple of months to run. We all knew the politics—my first two commanders had been ultra-cautious pussies, who got ahead because of it. So we were afraid that the war was over for us.
Plus, we were seven men short, cut nearly in half. Marc was dead. Brad and Ryan were out because of their wounds. Four guys had gone home to escort Marc’s body home.
A week after losing our guys, the CO came around to talk to us. We gathered in the chow hall at Shark Base and listened as he talked. It wasn’t a long speech.
“It’s up to you,” he said. “If you want to take it easy now, I understand. But if you want to go out, you have my blessing.”
“Fuck yeah,” we all said. “We want to go out.”
I sure did.
Half of a platoon joined us from a quieter area to help fill us out. We also got some guys who had graduated training but hadn’t been assigned to a platoon yet. Real new guys. The idea was to give them a little exposure to the war, a little taste of what they were getting into before they trained up for the main event. We were pretty careful with them—we didn’t allow them to go out on ops.
Being SEALs, they were chomping at the bit, but we held them back, treating them like gofers at first: Hey, go line the Hummers up so we can go. It was a protection thing; after all we’d just been through, we didn’t want them getting hurt out in the field.
We did have to haze them, of course. This one poor fella, we shaved his head and his eyebrows, then spray-glued the hair back on his face.
While we were in the middle of that, another new guy walked into the outer room.
“You don’t want to go in there,” warned one of our officers.
The new guy peeked in and saw his buddy getting pummeled.
“You don’t want to go in there,” repeated the officer. “It’s not going to end well.”
“I have to. He’s my buddy.”
“Your funeral,” said the officer, or words to that effect.
New guy number two ran into the room. We respected the fact that he was coming to his friend’s rescue, and showered him with affection. Then we shaved him, too, taped them together, and stood them in the corner.
Just for a few minutes.
We also hazed a new-guy officer. He got about what everyone got, but didn’t take it too well.
He didn’t like the idea of being mishandled by some dirty enlisted men.
Rank is a funny concept in the Teams. It’s not disrespected exactly, but it’s clearly not the full measure of the man.
In BUD/S, officers and enlisted are all treated the same: like shit. Once you make it through and join the Teams, you’re a new guy. Again, all new guys are treated the same: like shit.
Most officers take it fairly well, though obviously there are exceptions. The truth is, the Teams are run by the senior enlisted. A guy who’s a chief has twelve to sixteen years of experience. An officer joining a platoon has far less, not just in SEALs but in the Navy as well. Most of the time he just doesn’t know shit. Even an OIC might have only four or five years’ experience.
That’s the way the system works. If he’s lucky, an officer might get as many as three platoons; after that, he’s promoted to task unit commander (or something similar) and no longer works directly in the field. Even to get there, much of what he’s done has been admin work and things like de-confliction (making sure a unit doesn’t get fired on by another one). Those are important tasks, but they’re not quite the same as hands-on combat. When it comes to door-kicking or setting up a sniper hide, the officer’s experience generally doesn’t run too deep.
There are exceptions, of course. I worked with some great officers with good experience, but as a general rule, an officer’s knowledge of down-and-dirty combat is just nowhere near the same as the guy with many years of combat under his belt. I used to tease LT that when we did a DA, he would be in the stack, ready to go in, not with a rifle but his tactical computer.
Hazing helps remind everybody where the experience lies—and who you better look to when the shit hits the fan. It also shows the people who have been around a little bit what to expect from the new guys. Compare and contrast: who do you want on your back, the guy who ran in to save his buddy or the officer who shed tears because he was being mistreated by some dirty enlisted men?
Hazing humbles all the new guys, reminding them that they don’t know shit yet. In the case of an officer, that dose of humility can go a long way.
I’ve had good officers. But all the great ones were humble.
BACK IN THE MIX
We worked back into things slowly, starting with brief overwatches with the Army. Our missions would last for an overnight or two in Injun country. A tank got hit by an IED, and we went out and pulled security on it until it could be recovered. The work was a little lighter, easier than it had been. We didn’t go as far from the COPs, which meant that we didn’t draw as much fire.
With our heads back in the game, we started to extend. We went deeper into Ramadi. We never actually went to the house where Marc had been shot, but we were back in that area.
Our attitude was, we’re going out there and we’re getting the guys who did this back. We’re going to make them pay for what they did to us.
We were at a house one day, and after taking down some insurgents who’d been trying to plant IEDs, we came under fire ourselves. Whoever was shooting at us had something heavier than an AK—maybe a Dragunov (the Russian-made sniper rifle), because the bullets flew through the walls of the house.
I was up on the roof, trying to figure out where the gunfire was coming from. Suddenly, I heard the heavy whoop of Apache helicopters approaching. I watched as they circled placidly for a second, then tipped and fell into a coordinated attack dive.
In our direction.
“VS panels!” someone shouted.
That might have been me. All I know is, we hustled out every VS or recognition panel we had, trying to show the pilots we were friendly. (VS panels are bright orange pieces of cloth, hung or laid out by friendly forces.) Fortunately, they figured it out and broke off at the last moment.
Our com guy had been talking to the Army helos just before the attack and gave them our location. But, apparently, their maps were labeled differently than ours, and when they saw men on the roof with guns, they drew the wrong conclusions.
We worked with Apaches quite a bit in Ramadi. The aircraft were valuable, not just for their guns and rockets but also for their ability to scout around the area. It’s not always clear in a city where gunfire is coming from; having a set of eyes above you, and being able to talk to the people who own those eyes, can help you figure things out.
(The Apaches had different ROEs than we did. These especially came into play when firing Hellfire missiles, which could only be used against crew-served weapons at the time. This was part of the strategy for limiting the amount of collateral damage in the city.)
Air Force AC-130s also helped out with aerial observation from time to time. The big gunships had awesome firepower, though, as it happened, we never called on them to use their howitzers or cannons during this deployment. (Again, they had restrictive ROEs.) Instead, we relied on their night sensors, which gave them a good picture of the battlefield even in the pitch black.
One night we hit a house on a DA while a gunship circled above protectively. While we were going in, they called down and told us that we had a couple of “squirters”—guys running out the back.
I peeled off with a few of my boys and started following in the direction the gunship gave us. It appeared that the insurgents had ducked into a nearby house. I went in, and was met inside by a young man in his early twenties.
“Get down,” I yelled at him, motioning with my gun.
He looked at me blankly. I gestured again, this time pretty emphatically.
He looked at me dumbfounded. I couldn’t tell whether he was planning to attack me or not, and I sure couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t complying. Better safe than sorry—I punched him and slapped him down to the ground.
His mother jumped out from the back, yelling something. By now there were a couple of guys inside with me, including my terp. The interpreter finally got things calmed down and started asking questions. The mother eventually explained that the boy was mentally handicapped, and didn’t understand what I’d been doing. We let him up.
Meanwhile, standing quietly to one side, was a man we thought was the father. But once we settled her concerns about her son, the mother made it clear she didn’t know who the asshole was. It turned out that he had just run in, only pretending to live there. So we had one of our squirters, courtesy of the Air Force.
I suppose I shouldn’t tell that story without giving myself up.
The house where the men ran from was actually the third house we hit that night. I’d led the boys to the first. We were all lined up outside, getting ready to breach in, when our OIC raised his voice.
“Something doesn’t look right,” he said. “I’m not feeling this.”
I craned my head back and glanced around.
“Shit,” I admitted. “I took you all to the wrong house.”
We backed out and went to the right one.
Did I ever hear the end of that?
One day we were out on an op near Sunset and another street, which came off on a T intersection. Dauber and I were up on a roof, watching to see what the locals were up to. Dauber had just gone off the gun for a break. As I pulled up my scope, I spotted two guys coming down the street toward me on a moped.
The guy on the back had a backpack. As I was watching, he dropped the backpack into a pothole.
He wasn’t dropping the mail; he was setting an IED.
“Y’all gotta watch this,” I told Dauber, who picked up his binoculars.
I let them get to about 150 yards away before I fired my .300 Win Mag. Dauber, watching through the binos, said it was like a scene from Dumb and Dumber. The bullet went through the first guy and into the second. The moped wobbled, then veered into a wall.
Two guys with one shot. The taxpayer got good bang for his buck on that one.
The shot ended up being controversial. Because of the IED, the Army sent some people over to the scene. But it took them something like six hours to get there. Traffic backed up, and it was impossible for me, or anyone else, to watch the pothole for the entire time. Further complicating things, the Marines took down a dump truck suspected of being a mobile IED on the same road. Traffic backed up all over the place, and naturally the IED disappeared.
Ordinarily, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But a few days earlier we had noticed a pattern: mopeds would ride past a COP a few minutes before and after an attack, obviously scouting the place and then getting intel on the attack. We requested to be cleared hot to shoot anyone on a moped. The request was denied.
The lawyers or someone in the chain of command probably thought I was blowing them off when they heard about my double shot. The JAG—Judge Advocate General, kind of like a military version of a prosecuting attorney—came out and investigated.
Fortunately, there were plenty of witnesses to what had happened. But I still had to answer all the JAG’s questions.
Meanwhile, the insurgents kept using mopeds and gathering intelligence. We watched them closely, and destroyed every parked moped we came across in houses and yards, but that was the most we could do.
Maybe legal expected us to wave and smile for the cameras.
It would have been tough to go and just blatantly shoot people in Iraq. For one thing, there were always plenty of witnesses around. For another, every time I killed someone in Ramadi I had to write a shooter’s statement on it.
This was a report, separate from after-action reports, related only to the shots I took and kills I recorded. The information had to be very specific.
I had a little notebook with me, and I’d record the day, the time, details about the person, what he was doing, the round I used, how many shots I took, how far away the target was, and who witnessed the shot. All that went into the report, along with any other special circumstances.
The head shed claimed it was to protect me in case there was ever an investigation for an unjustified kill, but what I think I was really doing was covering the butts of people much further up the chain of command.
We kept a running tally of how many insurgents we shot, even during the worst firefights. One of our officers was always tasked with getting his own details on the shooting; he, in turn, would relay it back by radio. There were plenty of times when I was still engaging insurgents and giving details to LT or another officer at the same time. It got to be such a pain in the ass that one time when the officer came to ask the details on my shot, I told him it was a kid waving at me. It was just a sick joke I made. It was my way of saying, “Fuck off.”
The red tape of war.
I’m not sure how widespread the shooter statements were. For me, the process began during my second deployment when I was working on Haifa Street. In that case, someone else filled them out for me.
I’m pretty sure it was all CYA—cover your ass, or, in this case, cover the top guy’s ass.
We were slaughtering the enemy. In Ramadi, with our kill total becoming astronomical, the statements became mandatory and elaborate. I’d guess that the CO or someone on his staff saw the numbers and said that the lawyers might question what was going on, so let’s protect ourselves.
Great way to fight a war—be prepared to defend yourself for winning.
What a pain in the ass. I’d joke that it wasn’t worth shooting someone. (On the other hand, that’s one way I know exactly how many people I “officially” killed.)
Sometimes it seemed like God was holding them back until I got on the gun.
“Hey, wake up.”
I opened my eyes and looked up from my spot on the floor.
“Let’s rotate,” said Jay, my LPO. He’d been on the gun for about four hours while I’d been catching a nap.
I unfolded myself from the ground and moved over to the gun.
“So? What’s been going on?” I asked. Whenever someone came on the gun, the person he was relieving would brief him quickly, describing who’d been in the neighborhood, etc.
“Nothing,” said Jay. “I haven’t seen anyone.”
We swapped positions. Jay pulled his ball cap down to catch some sleep.
I put my eye near the sight, scanning. Not ten seconds later, an insurgent walked fat into the crosshairs, AK out. I watched him move tactically toward an American position for a few seconds, confirming that he was within the ROEs.
Then I shot him.
“I fuckin’ hate you,” grumbled Jay from the floor nearby. He didn’t bother moving his ball cap, let alone get up.
I never had any doubts about the people I shot. My guys would tease me: Yeah, I know Chris. He’s got a little gun cut on the end of his scope. Everybody he sees is in the ROEs.
But the truth was, my targets were always obvious, and I, of course, had plenty of witnesses every time I shot.
The way things were, you couldn’t chance making a mistake. You’d be crucified if you didn’t strictly obey the ROEs.
Back in Fallujah, there was an incident involving Marines clearing a house. A unit had gone into a house, stepping over some bodies as they moved to clear the rooms. Unfortunately, one of the bastards on the ground wasn’t dead. After the Marines were in the house, he rolled over and pulled the pin on a grenade. It exploded, killing or wounding some of the Marines.
From then on, the Marines started putting a round in anybody they saw as they entered a house. At some point, a newsman with a camera recorded this; the video became public and the Marines got in trouble. Charges were either dropped or never actually filed, since the initial investigation explained the circumstances. Still, even the potential for charges was something you were always aware of.
The worst thing that you could ever do for that war was having all these media people embedded in the units. Most Americans can’t take the reality of war, and the reports they sent back didn’t help us at all.
The leadership wanted to have the backing of the public for the war. But really, who cares?
The way I figure it, if you send us to do a job, let us do it. That’s why you have admirals and generals—let them supervise us, not some fat-ass congressman sitting in a leather chair smoking a cigar back in DC in an air-conditioned office, telling me when and where I can and cannot shoot someone.
How would they know? They’ve never even been in a combat situation.
And once you decide to send us, let me do my job. War is war.
Tell me: Do you want us to conquer our enemy? Annihilate them? Or are we heading over to serve them tea and cookies?
Tell the military the end result you want, and you’ll get it. But don’t try and tell us how to do it. All those rules about when and under what circumstances an enemy combatant could be killed didn’t just make our jobs harder, they put our lives in danger.
The ROEs got so convoluted and fucked-up because politicians were interfering in the process. The rules are drawn up by lawyers who are trying to protect the admirals and generals from the politicians; they’re not written by people who are worried about the guys on the ground getting shot.
For some reason, a lot of people back home—not all people—didn’t accept that we were at war. They didn’t accept that war means death, violent death most times. A lot of people, not just politicians, wanted to impose ridiculous fantasies on us, hold us to some standard of behavior that no human being could maintain.
I’m not saying war crimes should be committed. I am saying that warriors need to be let loose to fight war without their hands tied behind their backs.
According to the ROEs I followed in Iraq, if someone came into my house, shot my wife, my kids, and then threw his gun down, I was supposed to NOT shoot him. I was supposed to take him gently into custody.
You can argue that my success proves the ROEs worked. But I feel that I could have been more effective, probably protected more people and helped bring the war to a quicker conclusion without them.
It seemed the only news stories we read were about atrocities or how impossible it was going to be to pacify Ramadi.
Guess what? We killed all those bad guys, and what happened? The Iraqi tribal leaders finally realized we meant business, and they finally banded together not just to govern themselves, but to kick the insurgents out. It took force, it took violence of action, to create a situation where there could be peace.
“Our daughter is sick. Her white blood cell count is very low.”
I held the phone a little tighter as Taya continued to talk. My little girl had been sick with infections and jaundice for a while. Her liver didn’t seem to be able to keep up with the disease. Now the doctors were asking for more tests, and things looked real bad. They weren’t saying it was cancer or leukemia but they weren’t saying it wasn’t. They were going to test her to confirm their worst fears.
Taya tried to sound positive and downplay the problems. I could tell just from the tone of her voice that things were more serious than she would admit, until finally I got the entire truth from her.
I am not entirely sure what all she said, but what I heard was, leukemia. Cancer.
My little girl was going to die.
A cloud of helplessness descended over me. I was thousands of miles away from her, and there was nothing I could do to help. Even if I’d been there, I couldn’t cure her.
My wife sounded so sad and alone on the phone.
The stress of the deployment had started to get to me well before that phone call in September 2006. The loss of Marc and Ryan’s extreme injuries had taken a toll. My blood pressure had shot up and I couldn’t sleep. Hearing the news about my daughter pushed me to my breaking point. I wasn’t much good for anyone.
Fortunately, we were already winding down our deployment. And as soon as I mentioned my little girl’s condition to my command, they started making travel arrangements to get me home. Our doctor put through the paperwork for a Red Cross letter. That’s a statement that indicates a service member’s family needs him for an emergency back home. Once that letter arrived, my commanders made it happen.
I almost didn’t get out. Ramadi was such a hot zone that there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for flights. There were no helos in or out. Even the convoys were still getting hit by insurgent attacks. Worried about me and knowing I couldn’t afford to wait too long, my boys loaded up the Humvees. They set me in the middle, and drove me out of the city to TQ airfield.
When we got there, I nearly choked up handing over my body armor and my M-4.
My guys were going back to war and I was flying home. That sucked. I felt like I was letting them down, shirking my duty.
It was a conflict—family and country, family and brothers in arms—that I never really resolved. I’d had even more kills in Ramadi than in Fallujah. Not only did I finish with more kills than anyone else on that deployment, but my overall total made me the most prolific American sniper of all time—to use the fancy official language.
And yet I still felt like a quitter, a guy who didn’t do enough.