In March of 2007, a Marine by the name of Cpl. Dustin Lee was killed in Fallujah. Cpl. Lee was a dog handler that served with 3rd Recon Battalion. Cpl. Lee was stationed in Albany, Georgia. While standing at a firm base called OP Mohammad, Cpl. Lee was struck by a RPG that went over the compound's wall. He was killed instantly. When this happened, I had been in Iraq for about 14 days. I was working on Camp Baharia and training my dog to locate buried explosives. When my group of four Marines received word that Cpl. Lee was killed, it was devastating. I had been in the Marines for almost 4 years at this point and didnt know anyone that was killed in action. I didnt know how to react. I knew that it was going to happen but it caught me very much off guard. The four of us quickly packed up and went to Camp Fallujah to attend the memorial service.
Brutal to say the least.
Although it sounds harsh now, next man up is our philosophy. I was that next man. 1st Recon had just got into country and I was selected to be the dog team that worked with them. Working with Recon was a special honor for dog handlers. Recon was the best so you had to be considered one of the best to work with them. I was scared. I knew that they did missions that we most likely outside of my scope of training.
But, cowboy the fuck up. So I did.
My first night that I was out with Recon, my dog and I found 9 IED's in 6 hours. It was a rush. A rush that made me feel like I needed to puke. So I did. Standing next to explosives that can kill you or rip you from limb to limb and then moving on to the next one is something that I will never understand in the present but it made perfect sense in the past.
I'll never forget what the sound of my first fire fight sounded like. As Marines, we pull our own targets in the pits (the place underneath where the targets on the rifle range are located.) After getting shot at for the first time it was clear to me why we did so. You pulled pits so that you knew what it sounded like when you were being shot at. Shit sucks.
After the fire fight was over, I was asked to search the areas surrounding where most of the shooters fled from.
"No problem, sir. I'll need a team to provide security."
I went out with my group of three to a location that we were told that a dump truck filled with explosives was being staged. After searching for about 5 kilometers we made it to our grid. My dog was pulling hard as shit in the direction of a dump truck. He went straight to the dump truck and sat down (which gave me the indication that he smelled explosives.) I radioed back to my command unit and told them what happen.
"Get onto the truck and verify what your dog is indicating, Cpl."
"Excuse me, sir."
"Get your ass on that truck and look inside."
I have never been as scared as I was at that moment. Sheer and utter terror. If it went off, I was dead. If people came out, my rifle was slung behind my back and likely, I was dead. Most likely, to me, I was dead. Shit.
Well, I found out that there was 8 55 gallon drums filled with explosives and charged in all directions. More explosive power than the Oklahoma city bombing. After I made visual, I ran faster than I have have ever ran before. Chris Johnson type speed.
16 hours later, after keeping overwatch, a 500 lb bomb was dropped on the truck and it was blown in place.
Four days with recon. Stories to last a life time.
The day I was shot I had searched into the city of Karma. It took me 19 hours to move a mile and a half. We got to our house that we were going to take. I searched every single house in the village to ensure that no one had more than 1 AK-47 and that no one had explosive making devices. I was exhausted and it was time for me to get some sleep. My dog and I always slept right by each other. He was there, my weapon was tied to my leg, and a pistol was behind my head.
Gun shots. Many of them.
Mortar rounds exploded. Many of them.
I stood up. Dazed. Confused. Normal.
I reached for my weapon and heard guns shots ringing out and popping all over the house.
At this point I had been in over 40 fire fights and had conducted over 100 combat raids.
I moved to an area where I thought I could see what was happening better. I spun around. I didn't do this on my own. I was facing in the opposite direction and thought that I had been hit by a piece of brick from the exploding house surrounding me. I looked down. There was a hole in my arm. I tied my arm at the shoulder to prevent blood from escaping and moved to the window. I called for the corpsman to let them know that I was shot. The bullet went cleanly through my forearm. I tucked muscle and flesh back into my body. Very strange feeling.
My platoon sergeant moved into an area that was more secure. I denied morphine. I knew that I wanted to walk out of the house under my own power. I thought about my daughter. She was 2 at the time. Will I ever be able to hold her again? If I do, will I have my arm? Would she rather have a deformed me at her high school graduation or would she love me the way that I am?
Luckily, I made it to the hospital and got surgery in time. I did walk out to the helicopter under my own power. I did walk my dog there as well. I did hold my daughter with both arms. She isn't embarrassed of me and I still stand proud and say "God bless the USA."