Don't Take Life for Granted
By Capt. Alex Cusack, SBIRS Wing
/ Published August 15, 2007
Los Angeles Air Force Base -- It's not every day someone tries to kill you. But when, and if, it does happen, you may find something out about yourself. I've always been laid back and even called "sleepy." I never thought it would help save my life. Call it "laid back," "sleepy," "self-assurance" or the "ability to stay cool under pressure." Whatever term's used, it's definitely an important characteristic in my makeup and maybe for others in the Air Force. Taking a deep breath and keeping calm has guided me through many tough times, including four years at the Air Force Academy, constant military training, dealing with difficult people, but none so tough as when I was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq for more than 200 days in 2006.
I volunteered for an assignment in 2004 and again in 2005. I finally got orders in 2006 to an "undisclosed location" in the Iraq. Little did I know, I was about to be stationed in the heart of Baghdad and soon involved in a deadly altercation with Iraqi insurgents, with shots being fired, and mine and others' lives in mortal danger.
Shortly after arriving in theater with not more than 2 weeks training and an Acquisitions background, at 5:30 p.m. on March 30, 2006, I found myself immersed with Army combat arms troops and driving the sixth of seven vehicles in a convoy in Iraq. After a long day performing mission critical duties in Tadji, we were ready to convoy back to the International Zone, Baghdad, Iraq, about 45 minutes away. The Coalition troops were all decked out in 30 lbs of body armor, Kevlar, eye, ear and hand protection. We were driving heavily armored Humvees with mounted 50 caliber guns. Our weapons were on red; each had an M9 and M14 with a full clip, and a round heavy in the chamber. Though hot, sweaty, and exhausted--that seems to be the norm in the desert, we were ready to go.
The convoy rolled out onto Route Irish (which is called the most dangerous road in the world). Suddenly, insurgents hit us with fire from the left flank. The left side of the convoy was battered by small arms fire. The volley of shots impacted three vehicles in the convoy specifically targeting the most vulnerable, the Non Tactical Vehicle that I was driving. My vehicle was directly hit by 15 pounds of small arms of fire, concentrated around the engine block, and more dangerously, my window and door. I focused on the staying "laid back" in the chaos and followed directions given by the convoy commander to drive through the ambush at a high rate of speed. As firing continued, I did my best to swerve through the kill zone and came out with no injuries. Ahead, I spotted a strategically placed IED. Without enough time or road to turn away, I had no choice but to roll over it. Everyone in the convoy held their breath, but luckily it didn't go off. I stayed in communication with the convoy commander and eventually navigated through this ambush with zero casualties. By the time we entered the International Zone gates 10 minutes later the entire driver's side of the vehicle was peppered with bullet holes and the back window was shattered. Upon pulling into the compound, my virtually destroyed vehicle settled on its rims and the engine died.
After nearly seven months in Baghdad, it's great to be back in Los Angeles. I guess it's easy to forget how nice life is here in the states, and especially Southern California. I try not to take it for granted as much now.