100 rounds in 40 seconds

  • Published
  • By Deborah Mercurio
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The December night air was cold. It was the kind of cold that is a biting one; the kind that freezes the bones on contact.

Thoughts of this and his family back home filled the Airman's mind as his convoy rolled through the Iraqi village. He saw the muzzle flash and then the night erupted with gun fire. All thoughts of the cold and of home instantly vanished as he responded to what he was trained to do.

Without the extensive training he received before his actual deployment to Iraq, Airman 1st Class Christian R. Jackson, 377th Logistics Readiness Squadron, might not be around to receive a Bronze Star that he and another Airman have been submitted for.

"I was amazingly calm and just let things kick in," said Airman Jackson. "I don't want to sound like a hero, but I wasn't scared."

Airman Jackson may not want to sound like a hero but once the medal is approved, he will be recognized as such.

But, this isn't a story just about Airman Jackson or a medal he might get. It's about the journey of a four men, one woman team from the logistics readiness squadron here, their role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and how their training became a matter of life or death.

On Feb.10, 2005, Airman Jackson was notified, along with Tech. Sgt. Johannes F. Eg, Airman 1st Class Daniel C. Brown, Airman 1st Class Ryan M. Barnes, and Airman 1st Class Emma L. Hale, that they would be deploying to Iraq. Their mission would be to conduct convoy security missions. Simply put, they would protect cargo -- both human and supplies -- from point A to B.

After attending several LRS combat skills classes and settling personal affairs here, they reported to Camp Anderson-Peters, Texas, in July for the Basic Combat Convoy Course. The camp is named for two Airmen, Staff Sgt. Dustin W. Peters and Airman 1st Class Carl L. Anderson Jr., who died in 2003; the same year Air Force convoys started in Iraq.

Their six-week training there and at Fort Hood, Texas, consisted of live-fire weapons training, classroom studies for convoys and combat life saver skills. The life saver skills course, an advanced version of the (Self-Aid) Buddy Care Course, prepared them for such things as inserting IVs to keep injured stabilized until medical care arrived.

From there they traveled to Fort Sill, Okla., for two weeks of more convoy and weapons training. Upon completion, they received certification from the Army.

The following month, the team was on their way to Kuwait. There they received even more training and certification on weapons, more live-fire weapons training, and training on the actual vehicles they would drive on convoys.

Assigned to Detachment 2632, they were assigned to different squadrons. While separated, they remained a team at heart, seeing each other in passing but joining together at holiday celebrations.

"Training never stopped. If you weren't on the road, you were in training," said Sergeant Eg. Training would consist of a "crawl-walk-run" (talk-slow-motion-real time) convoy.

Their convoy duty varied but typically consisted of one convoy per day with eight hours off followed by another convoy. Their personal gear was made up of a 35-pound body armor and armor piercing ballistic shield. After eight months of carrying this armor, there was major wear and tear on their bodies. They didn't complain, as it was a matter of life or death.

When notified via a warning order of a mission, they would meet for a briefing, the "CRAM," where they would tell the commanders what they believed was expected of them. Gear and equipment would be collected and checked, especially the communication equipment. Meals were eaten, and the convoy team would rest.

"(Communication) is the most important thing in a convoy," said Airman Brown. "Everything runs easier if the comm is top-notch." He recognized this as yet another crucial aspect of their training.

Approximately five hours prior to the mission, they would down load their equipment and mount the vehicles with weapons. A convoy rehearsal briefing would then be given by the commander to the troops regarding intelligence, line of vehicles, etc. Scenarios, "rock drills," would be played out. The tradition was to use rocks in the sand to illustrate the scenario, thus the name for the drills, but now toy trucks have replaced them. The big "what if" would be discussed countered with what to do.

Vehicles would be rechecked and identifications would be scanned. According to Airman Brown, the scanning was accomplished to avoid ever having another Tomb of the Unknown.

Then it was hurry up only to wait because of possible improvised explosive devices that posed a threat on their route. This only heightened their apprehension of what could happen on the convoy.

"It seemed like we were constantly waiting for something bad to happen, expecting to be shot at or blown up every time we left on a convoy," said Airman Hale. She said she can now appreciate fully those who served before her because now she can relate.

On the cold December night, Airman Jackson volunteered to be the gunner for the second gun truck; usually he was a driver. Gun trucks are the vehicles responsible for providing fire power and force protection for the tractor trailers hauling the cargo.

As they made their way through a village that night, the first element of the convoy passed underneath an overpass when they were ambushed. Sensing tracer rounds (bullets) and seeing muzzle flash to the left, the first gun truck sent up a red flare to alert the rest of the convoy that they were under fire. A white flare followed to illuminate the area. Seconds later, it was Airman Jackson's turn. He had to physically turn his turret as it was facing to the right. In 40 seconds, he unloaded 100 rounds from his .50 caliber weapon with it jamming twice. When he ran out of ammunition, he went to his M-4 carbine and fired off 20 rounds until his gun truck was out of the kill zone. The third gun truck engaged, and Airman 1st Class Nicole O'Hara, a security forces Airman from Langley Air Force Base, Va., opened fire. Throughout this battle, the convoy continued to roll.

Sergeant Eg, who was in the third gun truck as truck commander said, "As the gun battle unfolded, battle drills ran through my head, which helped me to remain focus on getting us out of there."

The next day there were six confirmed kills. As a result, both Airmen Jackson and Airman O'Hara have been submitted for a Bronze Star with valor. They will be cited for saving the lives of their comrades in the convoy. Their training was a matter of life or death.

While Airman Jackson has been submitted for a Bronze Star, all five Airmen have been submitted for an Army Commendation Medal. They all saw combat.

"This is a big deal," said Maj. Michael "Bull" Ternus, 377th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. "The Army doesn't give those medals out freely or just to anyone. Make no mistake; these are heroes we're talking about."

According to Sergeant Eg, Air Force convoy detachments in Iraq were always requested by contractors and even the Army because of their "high-speed performance."

And now they are home. They returned last month and were welcomed by family and friends. What made the welcome home extra special was the greeting by the Blue Star Mothers, a group who makes it a point to greet all military troops returning from deployment. The Airmen agreed that the welcome was a great feeling. Sergeant Eg, who has deployed numerous times, said this was his best homecoming ever because of the support from these special Team Kirtland wingmen.

Back on American soil, the airmen's bond remains and will remain strong. The reason is simple. They have experienced something together most will never have to because of people like them. They stepped up and served their unit, their base and their country proudly. No one can fully understand what they went through, so they gravitate to each other. They will never forget how they were trained or how they trained together.

Starting with the next LRS combat skills class taught here, they will be the instructors for the next wave of logistics warriors tapped to head into harm's way. In doing so, they may save more lives.

This experience, a matter of life or death, will carry them and others throughout a lifetime and knowing their story can pave the way for others.