Soldier Braves Gunfire in Attempt to Save Friend | The Battle of Tal Afar

[Gunshots] The fear of imminent death is different from other types of fear. Knowing that one of those bullets could find its mark, it grips you. You can’t shake it. No matter how many times I experienced it, the first time or the hundredth time, it’s just as bad as the first time. I was born in Mexico in 1970. A lot of my family had already come to the United States. We ended up going to Santa Cruz, because that was where my father’s side of the family had settled. Pretty much lived in a small shack behind my grandmother’s house. My mother was amazing, and I don’t know how we did it, but we survived. Out of seven kids, I was the only one that graduated high school. I got a job as a security guard at the mall, but let’s face it, my job wasn’t going anywhere. In 1991, the Gulf War was going on. It was a very successful campaign. The liberation of Kuwait went off as planned. Soldiers were stepping off the plane. They were being greeted with lots of fanfare, and I wanted to do something with my life that was meaningful. So I walked next door, and there was the Army recruiter. I saw a poster next to her desk: a big soldier, all camouflaged up, in full battle rattle. And I said, “That’s what I want to do.” She said, “Are you sure? That’s a tough lifestyle.” I said, “I don’t care, I want to do that.” It was a noble calling, in my eyes. George Bush: My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war. I arrived into Iraq in late February 2005. It was my second deployment. We found ourselves on the road going to Tal Afar. The primary concern about Tal Afar is that it was a smuggling route that was bringing in weapons from Syria, weapons and fighters. We could see plain as day that a lot of the buildings had bullet holes in them. It was pretty concerning, I guess you could say, to see that there had been a lot of fighting going on in that town. June 7 was our first major operation as a squadron. We had in Tal Afar the exact location for approximately 30 insurgents. The task was to conduct simultaneous raids. The plan was to hit them at first light and nab or kill them. Nobody’s really talking. Everybody just doing last-minute mental checks. And as time gets closer, things start to get a little more tense. It’s going to be do or die. We pull up as quick as possible, drop the ramp, everybody runs out. [Bomb blast] We blow the gate, we stayed in the courtyard until they said the house was clear. There was no enemy there. We started hearing machine gun fire, and the helicopters were reporting that they were taking some hits. The decision was made to start sweeping these neighborhoods looking for the enemy that were firing and engaging the helicopters and other vehicles. We selected about 13, 14 Iraqi soldiers. Myself and Colonel Crowe were going to direct them. Colonel Crowe took the lead. We had to go inside an alleyway. The alley was not straight, it was kind of crooked. And as we came around the first bend in the alleyway, Colonel Crowe was in the kill zone and he caught the brunt of four or five AK-47s firing simultaneously. [Gun shots] I did my best to suppress the enemy so they would stop shooting at Colonel Crowe. [Gun shots] It sounded like there was AK-47 fire behind me and above me. Most firefights only lasted a few minutes, but this one was different. The constant sound of gunfire, I didn’t know if it was going to be my last day. My fire was just hitting this wall that they were behind, and the wall was probably a foot and a half thick. There’s no way my weapon could get through that wall. I’m probably not even thinking straight. I’m just reacting. But I remembered I had a grenade. And so, I pulled out that grenade and I had to push pretty hard. I had to put some oomph into it, but the grenade had the desired effect. So I was able to go out there and evacuate Colonel Crowe. We stayed there for about two seconds to see if the enemy was going to continue to fight, but they were not there anymore. They broke contact. We rolled back to the FOB. I remember that evening I ran into my commander, and at this time I didn’t know if Colonel Crowe had survived or not. So I asked him and he told me that Colonel Crowe didn’t make it. Colonel Crowe was a real easygoing guy. A good friend of mine. I patrolled with him quite a bit. He would go on just about every mission that I went on. He talked to you like a man. Treated me with dignity and respect. I think part of the reason that I feel guilty is because I was not in the front, where I should have been. He should have been in the rear, or somewhere in the middle, maybe, but not point man. I was normally in the lead. Just, I don’t feel right. The Silver Star is the one award that I really care about. It represents to me the sacrifice that Colonel Crowe made. I don’t see it as something I earned. I just wanted to stay alive. I just wanted to get Colonel Crowe out of there. I think a hero is someone who pays the ultimate sacrifice. They will never again get to come home and enjoy a sunny day, a walk in the park, the embrace of a wife or a spouse, children. Those men and women who didn’t come home, those who give up all that is good in life, those are heroes. I’ll never forget the Battle of Tal Afar.

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