Facebook actually turns out to be a pretty cool thing for tracking people down, or having them track you down (depends on how you look at it). But, then I’m kind of preaching to choir here anyway. You know that! So when telling stories that have happened, it shouldn’t surprise you when the people in those memories get hold of you.
Recently, I posted a picture of PFC Rob Stevens on my page. He saw it, but it wasn’t until I posted a second picture that he realized it was him. Turns out that I’ve been spelling his last name wrong all these years. I remembered Rob as being involved in a friendly fire incident. As the old expression goes, “Friendly fire isn’t friendly.” As this story illustrates, even if it misses, it still leaves a mark.
In the course of our catching up, he told me a story I knew about, but I had only a piece of.
As I’ve mentioned many times, we were members of the 501st MP Co, 1st Armored Division. Our platoon was charged with the responsibility of providing security for the Battle Central. When we went to the Gulf, it was several weeks before we ever began doing anything with them, and when we started, our mission had changed.
During the many exercises and field deployments we’d done with 1st Armored, it had always been our platoon and the boys and girl with the Headquarters Company providing that security. We ran checkpoints and mobile patrols while the HQ troops manned the perimeter as well as did their regular jobs. We had a well oiled and good relationship with them, and we were always on the same sheet of music. They knew what to expect from us, and we knew what to expect with them.
That’s why our battle plans said we’d be link with them for the duration of whatever, and that’s how it worked in the exercises.
We get to the Gulf, and that’s not what happened. It was several weeks before we began to do anything with them, and that was no where close to what we normally did. In exercises, we’d always set up an access control tent to the battle central. In the role we played in the Gulf, we never set up a tent, and we were just one part of the combat power to defend the site.
Initially, we were sending out a single Humvee, often times at night, to provide for a mobile security platform outside the perimeter.
The change in mission added other elements to the Battle Central security, most of whom we’d never worked with. This made sense in that Battle Central was a valuable piece of real estate. Protecting it was vital. So, additional elements were added to the perimeter.
First, there was the 1st Armored Division band. We’d never worked with them, and they were charged with providing one quarter of the security for the perimeter. The other unit we’d never worked with was a platoon of Engineers. Later, we’d have duo of M1 tanks assigned to Battle Central as well as a couple of Air Defense elements.
We all realized this could be a source of grief, but we didn’t realize how close this could come to a disaster.
We hadn’t made the jump up to FAA Garcia yet, and were still at Thompson. One of the problems with the area is there were Arab shepherds everywhere. I recall there was parked about two hundred yards from our small camp for several days. He had a couple hundred head of sheep, was probably legit, but I could never help but wonder how many of these guys had radios and were really intelligence operatives for Iraq.
I’m sure a lot of people thought that. And if Saddam could send in spies, why not some Special Ops troops that coould send something vital. That made everyone a little jumpy.
So with new units preforming tasks they’d y never done before, and with no working relationship with other units, disaster was in the cards.
I don’t recall if Sam Pennington had been promoted yet. When he showed up at 501st MPs, he was a Corporal. He’d been boarded and it was just a matter of time before he pinned on his E-5 stripes. But this particular night, he and his team were charged with providing the mobile patrol for the Battle Central. It was dark by the time they arrived on site, and the first thing they needed to do was report to the Battle Central, and then take their post.
I’ll let Rob pick up the narrative here. “As we pulled up near the Battle Central, we encountered a patrol and they directed us towards the dismount point. This is where we’d go to park, get out, and report in. But as we approached the site, we saw a light. It was a flash light with a green lens on it. We drove slowly towards it. We had our black out lights on because the driving lights could ruin Night Vision Goggles.
“Before we could respond, there was a red flashlight, and a command to halt. We didn’t even have time to stop, respond, or do anything when the night erupted in gunfire. A bright flashing strobe from the firing of a 50 Caliber machine gun atop an M-113 illuminated that side of the perimeter. I was in the gun turret of the Humvee, and bullets whistled past me. Tracer rounds raced past, dazzling me.
“Pennington realized what had happened, and had his window down. He ordered the driving lights on and starts yelling ‘We’re Americans! Military Police! Military Police!’
“The gun fire ceased and a voice tells us to “Stay put! We’re coming out to you.”
“We stayed put and Sam looked up at me. ‘Stevens? You OK?’
“It was several seconds before I could respond. The eruption of gunfire and the sound of bullets wheezing around me had scared me so bad my mouth had gone dry. I couldn’t answer.
“‘Rob. Are you OK?’ Sam demanded, grabbing my boot and shaking it.
“I found my voice. ‘I’m good,’ I answered. I’m sure my voice said I wasn’t, but I wasn’t hit. At that moment, that was important.
“I could see several armed soldiers approaching us. ‘If they shoot at us,’ Pennington said, ‘shoot back.’
“I knew Sam was angry, and when got out, he was yelling at people, asking them what the hell they thought they were doing. A major came out, got everything calmed down, and we went back to out and the night was quiet after that.
“But it’s been hard on me. I still have dreams about that night. I hear the bullets go past, and the tracers like something from a Science Fiction movie race towards me and past. Sometimes they hit me and the Humvee. I feel the Humvee rock from the impacts, and I hear the others screaming. When the bullets hit me, it feels like someone hit me several times with a baseball, and then I’m slumped in the turret. I know I’ve been hit, but I don’t feel anything.
“And I wake with a start.
“Sometimes, I go back to sleep. Sometimes, I don’t.
“Sam helped me deal with it lot. We spent a lot of time talking about it, and I’m eternally grateful for his caring and listening. I wish I knew where he was now. It would be nice to say thanks.”
So Sgt. Sam Pennington! If you’re out there, we’re tossing this out like a message in a bottle into the sea. If through some miracle you stumble across this in your life, reach out to your buddies from 501st MPs.
Some of us would like to know if you’re OK. And some of us would like to say thanks for making our lives there a little more bearable.
Author’s Prayer – For everyone else out, Lord, for some of us it was years ago we answered the call of our country. We went to lands far from home to do what he saw as our duty. And while there we experienced amazing stresses. We witnessed and in some cases, participated in events we never dreamed we’d be part of. And here we are, years later, and the ghosts of the past haunt us. Your word tells us to cast out cares upon you, and you will give us rest. I ask that now for me, brothers, and sisters in arms, that we cast these nightmares and dreams on you and bring us peace. Bind anything that comes against us and prevents us from rest and an abundant life. We ask that in your name. Amen.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like my blog and stories? Check out my novels available on Amazon. I have two out right now, The Cross and the Badge, and Against Flesh and Blood. A third novel, The Judas Tree will be coming out soon. Click on the novel names to be taken straight to them.
As always, thanks for dropping by and for your support. God Bless.