Monday, September 22, 2014

I Walked With Giants

Team 21 Bravo- From L-R: Specialist Bi "Ben" Peng, Sergeant Russell Gallo,  Specialist Kin Chung Lee
People often cannot understand why I do not follow sports or keep up with pop-culture. I often quote Sonny from "A Bronx Tale" to justify my disinterest:

Mickey Mantle? Is that what you’re upset about? Mickey Mantle makes $100 thousand dollars a year. How much does your father make? See If your father can’t pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don’t care about you, so why should you care about him. Nobody cares.

Usually I get a laugh and the topic gets changed. But the truth is that I have been around truly selfless, courageous and honorable men (boys when I look at old pictures).

It is hard to believe that 10 years ago this month I had the honor and privilege to serve in Iraq fighting the ISIS of yester-year with a team of guys that amazed and motivated me every day.


21 Bravo's Driver- Specialist Bi "Ben" Peng
In the early morning hours of 9/1/2004 while providing security for a convoy of vehicles traveling through Baghdad, a vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. As my vehicle entered the "kill zone" and I verified that the driver of the stricken truck was still able to drive, a secondary IED detonated causing my driver (Specialist Bi "Ben" Peng) to lose control of the vehicle and eventually crash into the center guardrail on Route SWORD.

I think I may have lost consciousness for a second or two. When I came to my senses, I realized that my gunner (Specialist Kin Chung Lee) was not in the turret of the Humvee. I believed he must have either been blown from the vehicle in the initial blast or thrown from it upon crashing. To my relief, the initial blast seemed to have knocked him down into the vehicle and into the back seat.

21 Bravo's Gunner- Specialist Kin Chung Lee
The blast punctured our fuel tank, severed both antennas from the vehicle and sent SPC Lee's machine gun flying off somewhere onto Route SWORD.  We were stranded and had no way to call for help. The 30 vehicle convoy we were escorting took off going 60 miles an hour and were out of sight within seconds. The last radio transmission I made before the second blast knocked out our communications was that the first vehicle that was hit was OK and for the lead vehicle to resume 60mph convoy speed.

After we each verified that none of us were seriously injured, SPC Peng said that he remembered seeing an American tank a few thousand meters back sitting in the darkness. SPC Lee quickly started to get his secondary weapon into operation on top of the Humvee while I searched the area around our vehicle for any other threats/IEDs.

SPC Peng began to signal into the darkness toward where he believed the tank was located. SPC Lee came with me to search for the machine gun that was blasted from our vehicle. We found it near some stopped Iraqi civilian traffic laying in the street approximately 200 meters from our crash site.

As we ran back toward the truck that SPC Peng was guarding, we could hear the unmistakable sound of an M1 Abrams racing toward us. Suddenly, the thought of winding up in an orange jumpsuit and having my head hacked off by filthy, cowardly, Islamic terrorists began to dissipate.

21 Bravo's Team Leader- Sergeant Russell Gallo
The troops in the tank called for help and, within 30 minutes, we were back inside the Baghdad International Airport with our disabled vehicle.

After all the debriefings, I finally got to see Lee and Peng. I remember admiring how calm they both remained throughout our ordeal. However, I knew that I was apprehensive about getting back on the road that day since our base was actually located roughly 60 miles south of Baghdad, so I figured that I would have to convince them to "man up" and "saddle up" for another ride. To my surprise, they were both ready to go without any hesitation.

I honestly don't think anyone will read this far, but I didn't write this for the general public.

***

To Lee and Peng:

I love you guys and hope we can get together soon. When I reflect on the great men in my life you guys are at the top of the list. My summary of that night doesn't even come close to painting the whole picture; and that night was just one of many....

You both are giants.

21 Bravo- Tip of the Spear!

Our vehicle...

21 Bravo!

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