A new pair of shoes

I had the pleasure of serving in an Air Force Special Operations unit as a forward air controller for six years, and was stationed at Ft. Benning, GA. Working in the 17th Air Support Operations Squadron (17th ASOS), I lived on Ft. Benning and trained with the unit I was attached to for all six years I was stationed there, and when they deployed I deployed.

Iraq

In April 2003, I would have been found somewhere between Camp Doha, Kuwait, and Baghdad, Iraq. I was attached to 1/30 Battalion, 3rd Brigade with the 3rd Infantry Division, and we had been fighting our way north for about a month. Just south of the Karbala Gap, we received an intelligence report that there were tanks dug in just north of our position. Our ground commander asked if we could get aircraft overhead to eliminate the threat these tanks presented, and I was more than happy to oblige. A flight of two A-10 Warthogs answered the call, and soon I had their eyes on target and they put bombs and bullets right where I asked.

With the road ahead as safe as it could be in the middle of Iraq, our 12-vehicle convoy continued north. Burning wrecks of tank hulls and pieces greeted us around a bend, and for some reason the lead vehicle stopped, so the rest of the vehicles as-sumed a tactical parked formation. While I was waiting for the vehicles to start moving again, I decided to get out of my vehicle and plant my tired self on a guardrail and survey the situation. I heard a thump in the distance and about a second before an explosion threw up some dirt in a field behind us, I realized someone was shooting mortars our way.

While still sitting on the guardrail, we again heard a thump, and I looked back at the field it had landed in before to watch an-other harmless explosion. To this day I don’t know if it was an audible sound that made me turn my head back toward my vehi-cle but I did, and the mortar hit about 10 feet behind me. Thankfully the guardrail took the brunt of the shrapnel, but I did find out the true meaning of “catapulting through the air” as that is what I did until I finally found myself sprawled out on the ground near a tire of my vehicle.

A promise made
I found myself staring at my shoes as I picked myself up off the ground. There is research that says people who are exposed to a traumatic event will sometimes make a deal with themselves if they make it out of a situation alive, and I now know what they mean. As I stared at my shoes, I made a deal with myself: if I didn’t die that day, or the rest of the time I was in Iraq, I would buy myself a new pair of shoes. Not just any shoes, but Italian leather dress shoes.

From that attack, I found a very sharp 3½-inch thick piece of shrapnel that had whizzed past my ear lodged in my vehicle’s antenna.
I did finally make it to Baghdad in early May, but not before I had had munitions inside a burning enemy tank explode five feet from my vehicle, I was shot at more times than I care to recall, and I called in airstrikes on over 50 separate targets.

Upon returning to the States, alive and well, I kept that promise to myself and bought a $400 pair of Italian dress shoes. It makes me wonder what other military men and women have promised themselves.