My darkest hour was also the moment I became a man. When all my years of training, all the blood, sweat, and tears of running, aiming, skills training, and hand to hand combat had finally been put to the test. My first kill. It wasn’t a proud moment but it was one on necessity and choice that I’ve played over and over again and I still get the same result. It would have gone exactly the same. September 21st 1999, 1327 Zulu time. We were flying over Almaty, Kazakhstan. The rattling of the POS tin can they call an airplane was really making me queasy. ‘Man less than an hour before we land.
It’s not coming soon enough. ’ I thought. Then came the dreaded command that started the chain of events that changed my life forever. “AAG! 9 o’clock. I repeat AAG! 9 o’clock! ” Yelled our Staff Sgt, “You know the drill, men. Time to grow wings! ” Now to you non-military personnel, an AAG is an anti-aircraft gun. Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize, hey we’re in an aircraft. You see where this is going. Time to grow wings means, we’re jumping off this plane. This might be fine and dandy for a para-trooping unit. We were not a para-trooping unit. Now most of our unit has had parachuting training, well all except one, me.
Now in my defense I had been busy with officer training so really hadn’t had much time. I now wish I had made time. So as we’re being shoveled out of the plane, there’s AAG blasts going off all around us. Then came my turn where I never thought you could get a jumping lesson in 30 seconds. Well it was enough for me. Out I went. Exciting, exhilarating, and scary as hell, were the first three things that came to mind. Now I’m no meteorologist but there are these invisible paths the air flows called vectors and if you don’t know what you’re doing you can be rerouted from you initial path. This is how I ended up drifting away from my unit.
I pulled my chute once I realized this and landed about half a click north of my click. I landed in a courtyard and did the most natural instinct that could come to mind. I ran. Now the guys manning these AAG’s also had troops on foot and they figured out real quick where I was, and that I probably would make a real nice hostage. A US officer is a gold bar waiting to be snatched. I went for high ground as I checked my GPS tracker looking for my unit. Once on the roof of a nearby building, I began running south from rooftop to rooftop looking for a good place to either regroup or stand my ground in case of a firefight.
I didn’t know how far behind me the enemy was but I felt them breathing down my neck, so to speak. I looked ahead on my route and noticed a 25’foot gap between me and the next building and it was a floor shorter than the building I was on. I had 10 steps to make a choice. Ten, I detach my pack. Nine, off goes my helmet. Eight, I increase my speed. Six, five, four, ‘This isn’t going to end well’, Three, I rear up, two, one……I leapt. For a second I thought this is it. But then realized I’m going to clear it, I’m actually going to clear it. I did, right into a window.
I rolled twice and started to catch my bearing and get up when I felt a searing pain in my back. I was being tackled. I looked up while on my back to a sweaty, angry look I recognized all too well, the look of a man wanting to kill me. I don’t know where he came from or who he was but I knew these were things I would have to worry about later. For now I have to stay alive. I felt his arm pressing into my throat and damn it hurt. I brought my right fist up and into his temple. It jeered him enough to release the choke. He reached back with the same arm and pulled something out from what looked like his back pocket, a knife.
As soon as I realized what it was it was already headed at my face. I took both arms and grabbed for the wrist of the armed hand. He twisted his hand and sliced at my left forearm, I lost grip only with that hand for a slight second, jabbed him in the ribs giving me enough time to re-grip. He was trying to put all his weight into the armed hand and still hold me down while I kept my eyes and both hands focused on the knife filled hand and wrist. I was holding up until the pain from the slice began to overwhelm me and I felt woozy. I felt like this was it, I am going to lose my grip and this knife was about to go into my face.
I quickly thought of everything that would follow and everything that has happened to me up to that point in an instance. Then as if a blessing from God, the door burst open and I redirected my focus to the door. So did he, which was his mistake. I quick glanced back at him and noticed two things. His eyes were off of me and his push weakened just for a second. The only second I needed. I pivoted my upper half to my right and pulled his arm towards where my head once was, jamming the knife into the hardwood floor. I brought my right elbow into his head and he toppled over.
I reached for my side arm, rolled away, up on to one side, aimed and fired twice. My pistol and eyes both rose up and to the left to the doorway and fired three more times. Both enemies, cancelled. I took what seemed like an eternity to curse, catch my breath and regroup myself. I stood up and realized the fight wasn’t over. I still had to make it to my unit. I made my way through the apartment I earlier crashed into, out into the hallway and back up to the roof. I noticed insurgents on the rooftop directly behind me making half-ass shots at me.
I leapt to the next rooftop, made cover behind a chimney, pulled my pistol took two deep breaths and….. Well you’ll just have to wait for next time for that one. You ask yourself what I would do if I were in a life and death situation. Did it turn out like I thought? Nothing like it. Because when it really happens you go into autopilot. It all happened so quickly, but when I relive it in the nightmares that haunt me to this day, it seems like forever. It wasn’t a cool thing to do it, but was it necessary for my survival? Yes. If I could do it all over again, I would have taken the para-trooping courses.