My Father Above Me

May 9, 2017

Mosul, Iraq

...If ISIS attacked us head-on, I knew we would not survive long...

It was the last thing I wanted to hear.  ISIS was going to attack tonight.  Still feeling weak and light-headed from five days of fever and diarrhea, I shouldered the Russian-made BKC machine gun and made my way to the roof.  My legs wobbled in the darkness as I climbed the four stories of stairs that were covered in debris and glass.  It was strange to think that this dark Alamo used to be someone’s home.

Reaching the rooftop, I set the machine gun up in a position near the mat that would serve as my bed that night.  My bed consisted of a thin mat and a blanket scavenged from the house that I was preparing to fight and possibly die in.  To man my fighting position when ISIS attacked, I would be able to roll out of bed and begin laying down fire in a matter of seconds.

As Hollywood-worthy as this scene may have sounded, I wasn’t at all excited.  If ISIS attacked us head-on, I knew we would not survive long.  First, we were sitting on the very edge of the Iraqi flank.  The next friendly unit was more than two hundred meters away.  In urban warfare, they’d might as well not even be there.  Second, there were only a handful of us with rifles.  We had one machine gun, but it was low on ammo.  Third, and most important, a thick layer of clouds was moving in very low.  The U.S. Air Force wouldn’t be able to help us.  We were on our own.  We settled in for a long night and began our watch rotation.

I was already awake when ISIS attacked the Iraqi unit two-hundred meters away to our East at 11 pm.  I lied on my back and stared at the clouds that were backlit by the moon.  There was no reason to stand up.  There was nothing we could do, and stray rounds were already flinging overhead.  Our man on watch kept his head low and peered over the wall.

...we were all on our feet, weapons in hand. No one said a word. We knew was what about to happen...

The firefight lasted for about an hour, and then as abruptly as it had started, the battle ended and everything went quiet.  This was the moment of truth.  Would ISIS shift farther east or would they hit our line next?  My answer came in the form of bullets hissing and cracking over my head.  Seconds later, we were all on our feet, weapons in hand.  No one said a word.  We knew was what about to happen.  Every man moved to his position.

ISIS was hitting us from the south so I grabbed my AK-47 rather than the machine gun.  I stayed low and glanced over the walls.  Across the intersection from us sat an abandoned Mosque.  Its minaret bore the holes of a hundred bullets and rockets.  Every window was destroyed and chunks of the walls had been blown onto the dark, shadowy street below.  It was the one building within rifle range that was taller than ours.  It was my responsibility to watch it.

The fire increased and tracers began to cut through the air like fireworks above us.  An Iraqi unit farther forward was hammering away at the ISIS assaulters.  As soon as ISIS shifted and hit them on the flank, they’d run right into us.  As soon as we opened fire, they’d move to the Mosque and pour deadly fire down on us.  As the machine gunner and sniper of the group, I knew I’d be the last one off the roof.  I also knew I had the least chance of making it through this thing alive.  But I had accepted that.

As I readied my resolve and prepared my spirit to fight, a beautiful light washed over me.  The moon.  Looking up, I got goosebumps.  A chill went down my spine.  The clouds had parted.  Moments later, I heard the familiar moan of a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship flying in the black skies overhead.  I thought of my father who had flown C-130s in the Air Force when I was a boy.  It was as though he was there with me, watching over me.  I knew right then that we’d make it through the night.  My laughing nearly turned into crying from the relief.  

World's Most Lethal Gunship (AC-130W)

The gunship broke through the cloud bank and immediately found its targets.  It poured devastating fire into the advancing ISIS lines, halting the attack.  As soon as the the first rounds of the gunship hit the ground, the shooting stopped.  They couldn’t attempt another attack that night.

Laying back down on my mat, I cuddled up to my AK-47 and listened to the hum of the gunship overhead as it stood watch.  The sound soothed me to sleep.  With my father above me, I knew I’d make it through one more night.