Gates of Fire
by Michael Yon
[a dispatch posted
from Mosul, Iraq on 25 August 2005 to the Michael Yon Online
Magazine hosted at BlogSpot; readers who want to support the
independent publication of these chronicles may send donations
directly to Michael
Yon at P.O. Box 416, Westport Pt, MA 02791 USA]
The top leaders of the Deuce Four: CSM Robert Prosser and LTC
Erik Kurilla making the call to Daniel's Mom outside the hospital
Combat comes unexpectedly, even in war.
On Monday, while conducting operations in west Mosul, a voice
came over the radio saying troops from our brother unit, the
3-21, were fighting with the enemy in east Mosul on the opposite
side of the Tigris River. Moments later, SSG Will Shockley
relayed word to us that an American soldier was dead. We began
searching for the shooters near one of the bridges on our side of
the Tigris, but they got away. Jose L. Ruiz was killed in action.
Although the situation in Mosul is better, our troops still fight
here every day. This may not be the war some folks had in mind a
few years ago. But once the shooting starts, a plan is just a
guess in a party dress.
The only mission I've seen unfold close to what was planned was a
B Company raid a few months back. It actually went so close to
perfect that we could hardly believe it. The sole glitch occurred
when a Stryker hit an IED, but since nobody was hurt, we just
continued the mission. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine why I
didn't write about it. But times are busy, and, apart from it
going nearly perfectly according to plan, it just seemed like any
other old raid.
I had been talking with Captain Matt McGrew about the The
Battle for Mosul IV dispatch, intending to spend the night
with him and some Iraqi troops at one of their combat outposts,
to glean additional insight, but the on-going battles in Mosul
kept getting in the way. On the night before the planned
ride-along, the obstacle was a big and sudden push of operations
and tasks bundled in a surge operation. Operation Lancer
Fury was launched without notice even to the unit commanders
When I'd sat in on the warning order (notice of
impending operations) for Lancer Fury last week, the plan was so
cleverly contrived that the leadership at Deuce Four had to
grudgingly acknowledge its excellence, even though the idea had
originated from higher-up. In every military unit I have seen,
there is a prevailing perception that good ideas trickle down
from the top about as often as water flows uphill, so Lancer Fury
apparently was a wunder-plan.
As a surge operation, Lancer Fury is sort of a crocodile
hunt, where our people do things to make the crocodiles come out,
trying to flush them into predictable directions, or make them
take certain actions. And when they do, we nail them. The combat
portion of the surge amounted to a sophisticated
area ambush that would unfold over the period of about
This surge is a complicated piece of work, with
multidimensional variables and multifarious moving parts. Those
parts range literally from boots on our feet to satellites
zipping overhead. So, of course, glitches and snags started
occurring the first day. Among other things, key gear failed; but
overall, the surge was going well. A few terrorists had
already been caught in the first 24 hours.
Thursday night, a revised plan had me following some Deuce Four
soldiers on a midnight raid. They had night vision gear, so they
moved quickly. I had only moonlight, so I nearly broke my leg
keeping up. Sleeking around Mosul under moonlight, we prowled
through the pale glow until we came upon a pond near a farmhouse.
Recon platoon had already raided one house and snagged some
suspects, then crept away in the darkness to another target close
Five soldiers from Recon — Holt, Ferguson, Yates, Welch and
Ross — were moving through moon-cast shadows when an Iraqi
man came out from a farmhouse, his AK-47 rifle hanging by his
side. Suddenly encircled by the rifles, lights and lasers of four
soldiers, the man was quickly disarmed. A fifth soldier radioed
for the interpreter and together they sorted out that he was a
farmer who thought the soldiers were thieves skulking around his
property. Recon returned the man his rifle, and started making
their way back, umbral and silent across the ploughed fields.
During a halt in some trees at the edge of the field, I overheard
the voice of LTC Kurilla, the commander of the Deuce Four
battalion, quietly praising one of the soldiers for showing
discipline in not shooting the farmer. After loading the other
suspects onto Strykers, we returned to base, where I fell,
exhausted, at about 3AM Friday morning.
The surge continued while I slept.
Alpha Company had deployed during the early hours and was
conducting operations around Yarmook Traffic Circle. SGT Daniel
Lama, who is as much respected as he is liked, was pulling
security in an air guard position of his Stryker, when a bullet
flew straight at his neck, striking him. As he collapsed into the
Stryker, his body clenched in seizure, fingers frozen, arms and
I seldom get letters in Iraq, but waiting for me in the mailroom
while I slept was a card. The return address sticker, an American
flag on it, was from Jefferson, Pennsylvania. The postage stamp
had an American flag waving. The card inside had a picture of an
American flag for its cover. The sweet and heartfelt message
inside ended with —
Please tell our soldiers we care so much for them. —
Dan and Connie Lama.
I was still asleep when medics brought their son Daniel to the
Combat Support Hospital, or CaSH. It's a familiar place
for Deuce Four soldiers, who've seen some of the most sustained
and intense urban combat of this war, receiving over 150 Purple
Hearts in the process.
Bap bap bap! on my door. I jumped up and there was CSM Robert
Prosser, the top enlisted soldier at Deuce Four. Prosser is
always professional, always direct: "Sergeant Lama's been shot.
We're rolling in ten minutes," he said.
"I'll be there in ten," I answered, instantly awake.
Within minutes, I was running out my room, still pulling zips and
fastening buttons, when I came sweating into the TOC. LTC Kurilla
was there asking a soldier for the latest report on Sergeant
Lama, now in surgery.
When a soldier is killed or wounded, the Department of Army calls
the loved ones, and despite their attempts to be sympathetic, the
nature of the calls has a way of shocking the families. There is
just no easy way to say, "Your son got shot today." And so,
according to men here, the calls sound something like this: "We
are sorry to inform you that your son has been shot in Mosul.
He's stable, but that's all we know at this time."
LTC Kurilla likes to call before the Army gets a chance, to tell
parents and loved ones the true circumstances. Kurilla is direct,
but at least people know they are getting an accurate account.
We loaded the Strykers and drove down to the Cash, and there was
Chaplain Wilson, who might be the most popular man on base.
Everybody loves him. Often when Chaplain Wilson sees me, he will
say, "Good morning Michael. How are you today?" But sometimes he
asks me, "Are you okay?" and I think, "Do I look stressed?"
"Of course I feel okay Chaplain Wilson! Don't I look okay?"
He just laughs, "Yes, Michael, you look fine. Just checking." But
secretly, every time he asks, I feel a notch better.
Chaplain Wilson came out from the hospital smiling and explained
that Daniel (Sergeant Lama) was fine. The seizure was just a
natural reaction to getting shot in the neck. It was just a flesh
wound. As if offering proof, Chaplain Wilson said: "When they
rolled Daniel over, the doctor stuck his finger in Daniel's butt
to check his prostate, and Daniel said, 'Hey! What are you
doing?!'" Everybody laughed.
I changed the subject by snapping a photo of CSM Prosser while
LTC Kurilla got Mrs. Lama on the Iridium satellite phone. I heard
the commander telling this soldier's mother that her son was
fine. Daniel just had some soft tissue damage, nothing major.
Kurilla told her that he and some other soldiers were at the
hospital now with Daniel, who was still too groggy to talk.
"Really, Daniel's okay, and don't worry about it when the Army
We loaded the Strykers and headed downtown.
Some Strykers were scouting for the shooters, while others were
working details at Yarmook Traffic Circle. Major Craig Triscari
from the 1-17th Infantry from Alaska was with Major Mike
Lawrence, "Q," and other soldiers, when he noticed a car with its
hood up. The 1-17th will relieve the 1-24th soon, so Triscari has
been conducting operations with Deuce Four. The vehicle struck
Triscari as odd: it hadn't been there a few minutes earlier.
Automatic weapons fire started coming from at least two places.
Bullets were kicking up the dust, and we got a radio call that
troops were in contact at Yarmook Traffic Circle. Sitting inside
the Stryker with LTC Kurilla and me were two new faces. A young
2nd lieutenant who had only been in Iraq three weeks, and hadn't
seen any real combat; and a young specialist, who, per chance, is
one of the few Deuce Four soldiers who is not a seasoned veteran,
though he has seen some combat. Also in the Stryker was "AH," the
interpreter, whose courage under fire I had seen before. But the
more battle weathered fighters were not there.
Chris Espindola, the commander's radio operator, a respected and
very experienced fighter, was down in Baghdad at the Iraqi
Criminal Court testifying against two terrorists caught by Deuce
Four months earlier. Like the card in the mailroom, the
circumstances behind their capture were more germane to the
events about to unfold than anyone might have guessed at the
Kurilla's reluctance to allow anyone outside Deuce Four ride with
his soldiers--including writers--is well known. Partly because of
writers, people hearing about Deuce Four in the news might think
of Mosul as some kind of thrill ride where everything will end
okay after a few hairpin turns. This is not true.
Newcomers, even soldiers, unaccustomed to this level of
hostility, can only burden the men with added danger. So Kurilla
makes sure they can be trusted by mentoring new officers and
having them spend three weeks with him before they are allowed to
lead men in this unit.
Some months back, a new lieutenant named Brian Flynn was riding
with the Kurilla for his first three weeks, when Kurilla spotted
three men walking adjacent to where Major Mark Bieger and his
Stryker had been hit with a car bomb a week prior. The three men
looked suspicious to Kurilla. who's legendary sense about people
is so keen that his soldiers call it the Deuce
Sixth-Sense. His read on people and situations is so uncanny
it borders the bizarre.
That day, Kurilla sensed wrong and told his soldiers to
check the three men. As the Stryker dropped its ramp, one of the
terrorists pulled a pistol from under his shirt. Mark Bieger was
overwatching from another Stryker and shot the man with the first
two bullets, dropping him to his knees.
LT Flynn was first out of the Stryker, and both he and the
airguard CPT Westphal, saw the pistol at the same time and also
shot the man. The other suspects started running. But all Kurilla
saw was LT Flynn stepping off the ramp, and then there was a lot
of shooting. Kurilla yelled F L Y NNNNNNNNNNN!!!! and was nearly
diving to stop Flynn from shooting, thinking the new lieutenant
had lost his mind and was shooting a man just for running from
Coalition forces. Soldiers can't just shoot anyone who runs.
Chris Espindola also shot the man. Amazingly, despite being hit
by four M4's from multiple directions, the man still lived a few
minutes. Soldiers out ran and tackled his two associates when
they made a run.
During their interrogation on base, both admitted to being
Jihadists. One was training to be a sniper, while the other was
training for different combat missions. They also admitted that
the terrorist who was shot down was their cell leader, who had
been training them for three months. They were on a recon of
American forces when Kurilla sensed their intent.
The cell leader had a blood stained death note in his
pocket stating he was a true Mujahadeen and wanted to die
fighting the Americans. He got his wish; and now, Chris
Espindola, Kurilla's radio man, was down in Baghdad testifying
against the two surviving co-conspirators. Despite their sworn
confessions, Kurilla was left with a young radio operator with
Flynn had now been a platoon leader for six months, but today
Kurilla had another 2nd lieutenant who being mentored before he
became a platoon leader. Our Stryker did not contain the normal
fighters that I saw with LTC Kurilla, but we also had a section
(two squads) of infantrymen in Strykers from Alpha Company. This
section was led by SSG Konkol.
We were searching the area for the source of that automatic
weapons fire when Kurilla spotted three men in a black Opel and
his sixth sense kicked. When Kurilla keyed in on them, he pointed
his rifle at the car and signaled them to get out. The driver
tucked his head and gunned the gas. The chase was on.
Strykers are fast, but Opels are faster. We were roaring through
little streets and along roads, horn blaring, cars zipping off
the sides, the steady chatter of multiple radio channels
colliding inside the Stryker. A Kiowa helicopter pilot radioed
that he spotted the car. As the chase continued, the Kiowa pilot
said, "It's going about 105 mph."
How can the pilot know it's going 105 mph? I thought.
This Kiowa shot the Opel
As if in reply, the pilot radioed that the Opel was outrunning
his helicopter. Captain Jeff VanAntwerp came on the radio net
saying he was moving his section into position to intercept the
"Watch out for that kid!" yelled Kurilla over the intercom to our
driver as we made a hard turn, managing to avoid hitting the
Opels may be faster than Kiowas on straight-a-ways, but when the
car made turns, the helicopter quickly caught up. Kurilla ordered
the Kiowa to fire a warning shot, then quickly authorized the
Kiowa to disable the vehicle.
Kiowas are small, carrying just two people; they fly so low the
two flying soldiers are practically infantrymen. The pilot
swooped low and the co-pilot aimed his rifle at the
Opel, firing three shots and blowing out the back window. The
Kiowa swooped and banked hard in front of the car, firing three
more shots through the front hood, the universal sign for
The car chase ended, but the men fled on foot up an alley. We
approached in the Strykers and I heard Kurilla say on the radio,
"Shots fired!" as he ducked for a moment then popped back up in
the hatch. Kurilla continued, "Trail section clear the car and
clear south to north! I'm going to block the back door on the
About fifteen seconds later our ramp dropped. We ran into combat.
Folks who haven't done much urban fighting might take issue with
the wild chases, and they might say that people should always
"stack up" and do things this or that way, but men in Delta
Force, SEALs and the like, all know that when chasing wild men
into the labyrinth, soldiers enter the land of
confusion. If soldiers don't go fast, the bad guys simply
get away. Just a few minutes ago, these three guys were going
105 miles per hour, and outrunning a helicopter.
There were shops, alleys, doorways, windows . . .
The soldiers with LTC Kurilla were searching fast, weapons at the
ready, and they quickly flex-cuffed two men. But these were not
the right guys. Meanwhile, SSG Konkol's men were clearing towards
us, leaving the three bad-guys boxed, but free.
Shots were fired behind us but around a corner to the left.
Both the young 2nd lieutenant and the young specialist were
inside a shop when a close-quarters firefight broke out, and they
ran outside. Not knowing how many men they were fighting, they
wanted backup. LTC Kurilla began running in the direction of the
shooting. He passed by me and I chased, Kurilla leading the way.
There was a quick and heavy volume of fire. And then LTC Kurilla
LTC Erik Kurilla (front right), the moment the bullets
strike.(2nd LT front-left; radioman near-left; "AH" the
interpreter is near-right.)
Three bullets reach flesh: One snaps his thigh bone in half.
Both legs and an arm are shot.
The commander rolls into a firing position, just as a bullet
strikes the wall beside 2nd lieutenant's head (left).
Kurilla was running when he was shot, but he didn't seem to miss
a stride; he did a crazy judo roll and came up shooting.
BamBamBamBam! Bullets were hitting all around Kurilla. The young
2nd lieutenant and specialist were the only two soldiers near.
Neither had real combat experience. AH had no weapon. I had a
Kurilla, though down and unable to move, was fighting and firing,
yelling at the two young soldiers to get in there; but they
Kurilla was in the open, but his judo roll had left him slightly
to the side of the shop. I screamed to the young soldiers, "Throw
a grenade in there!" but they were not attacking.
"Throw a grenade in there!" They did not attack.
"Give me a grenade!" They didn't have grenades.
"Erik! Do you need me to come get you!" I shouted. But he said
"No." (Thank God; running in front of the shop might have proved
"What's wrong with you!?" I yelled above the shooting.
"I'm hit three times! I'm shot three times!"
Amazingly, he was right. One bullet smashed through his femur,
snapping his leg. His other leg was hit and so was an arm.
With his leg mangled, Kurilla pointed and fired his rifle into
the doorway, yelling instructions to the soldiers about how to
get in there. But they were not attacking. This was not the Deuce
Four I know. The other Deuce Four soldiers would have killed
every man in that room in about five seconds. But these two
soldiers didn't have the combat experience to grasp the power of
This was happening in seconds. Several times I nearly ran over to
Kurilla, but hesitated every time. Kurilla was, after all, still
fighting. And I was afraid to run in front of the shop,
especially so unarmed.
The commander fights...
...and fights, as more bullets kick up dust.
And then help arrived in the form of one man: CSM Prosser.
Prosser ran around the corner, passed the two young soldiers who
were crouched low, then by me and right to the shop, where he
started firing at men inside.
A man came forward, trying to shoot Kurilla with a pistol,
apparently realizing his only escape was by fighting his way out,
or dying in the process. Kurilla was aiming at the doorway
waiting for him to come out. Had Prosser not come at that precise
moment, who knows what the outcome might have been.
Prosser shot the man at least four times with his M4 rifle. But
the American M4 rifles are weak--after Prosser landed three
nearly point blank shots in the man's abdomen, splattering a
testicle with a fourth, the man just staggered back, regrouped
and tried to shoot Prosser.
CSM Robert Prosser goes black.
Then Prosser's M4 went black (no more bullets). A
shooter inside was also having problems with his pistol, but
there was no time to reload. Prosser threw down his empty M4, ran
into the shop and tackled the man.
Though I have the photo, I do not remember the moment that
Prosser went black and ran into the shop. Apparently I
turned my head, but kept my finger on the shutter button. When I
looked back again, I saw the very bloody leg of CSM Prosser
inside the shop. It was not moving. He appeared to be shot down
I looked back at the two soldiers who were with me outside, and
screamed what amounted to "Attack Attack Attack!" I stood up and
was yelling at them. Actually, what I shouted was an unprintable
string of curses, while Kurilla was also yelling at them to get
in there, his M4 trained on the entrance. But the guys were not
I saw Prosser's M4 on the ground, Where did that come from?
I picked up Prosser's M4. It was empty. I saw only Prosser's
bloody leg lying still, just inside the darkened doorway, because
most of his body was hidden behind a stack of sheet metal.
"Give me some ammo! Give me a magazine!" I yelled, and the young
2nd lieutenant handed over a full 30-round magazine. I jacked it
in, released the bolt and hit the forward assist. I had only one
magazine, so checked that the selector was on semi-automatic.
I ran back to the corner of the shop and looked at LTC Kurilla
who was bleeding, and saw CSM Prosser's extremely bloody leg
inside the shop, the rest of him was still obscured from view. I
was going to run into the shop and shoot every man with a gun.
And I was scared to death.
What I didn't realize was at that same moment four soldiers from
Alpha Company 2nd Platoon were arriving on scene, just in time to
see me about to go into the store. SSG Gregory Konkol, SGT Jim
Lewis, and specialists Nicholas Devereaux and Christopher Muse
where right there, behind me, but I didn't see them.
Reaching around the corner, I fired three shots into the shop.
The third bullet pierced a propane canister, which jumped up in
the air and began spinning violently. It came straight at my head
but somehow missed, flying out of the shop as a high-pressure jet
of propane hit me in the face. The goggles saved my eyes. I
gulped in deeply.
In the tiniest fraction of a second, somehow my mind actually
registered Propane . . . FIREBALL! as it bounced on the ground
where it spun furiously, creating an explosive cloud of gas and
dust, just waiting for someone to fire a weapon.
I scrambled back, got up and ran a few yards, afraid that Kurilla
was going to burn up if there was a fire. The soldiers from Alpha
Company were heading toward him when LTC Kurilla yelled out that
he was okay, but that CSM Prosser was still in the shop. The
Alpha Company soldiers ran through the propane and dust cloud and
swarmed the shop.
When the bullet hit that canister, Prosser — who I thought
might be dead because of all the blood on his leg — was
actually fighting hand-to-hand on the ground. Wrapped in a ground
fight, Prosser could not pull out his service pistol strapped on
his right leg, or get to his knife on his left, because the
terrorist — who turned out to be a serious terrorist
— had grabbed Prosser's helmet and pulled it over his eyes
and twisted it.
Prosser had beaten the terrorist in the head three times with his
fist and was gripping his throat, choking him. But Prosser's
gloves were slippery with blood so he couldn't hold on well. At
the same time, the terrorist was trying to bite Prosser's wrist,
but instead he bit onto the face of Prosser's watch. (Prosser
wears his watch with the face turned inward.) The terrorist had a
mouthful of watch but he somehow also managed to punch Prosser in
the face. When I shot the propane canister, Prosser had nearly
strangled the guy, but my shots made Prosser think bad guys were
coming, so he released the terrorist's throat and snatched out
the pistol from his holster, just as SSG Konkol, Lewis, Devereaux
and Muse swarmed the shop. But the shots and the propane fiasco
also had brought the terrorist back to life, so Prosser quickly
reholstered his pistol and subdued him by smashing his face into
The combat drama was ended, so I started snapping photos again.
CSM Prosser, his leg drenched in the terrorist's blood, as 2nd
Platoon Alpha Company arrives
CSM Prosser drags the terrorist into the alley ...
...into the light.
The propane canister at rest (left), the terrorist in view of the
CSM Prosser flex cuffs Khalid Jasim Nohe
Prosser stands above the crocodile who bit his watch.
SFC Bowman shields the eyes of his commander.
When Recon platoon showed up about a minute later, SFC Bowman
asked LTC Kurilla to lie down. But Kurilla was ordering people to
put out security, and directing action this way and that. When
the very experienced medic, Specialist Munoz, put morphine into
Kurilla, the commander still kept giving orders, even telling
Munoz how to do his job. So SFC Bowman told Munoz to give Kurilla
another morphine, and finally Kurilla settled down, and stopped
giving orders long enough for them to haul him and the terrorist
away to the Combat Support Hospital. The same facility where
Daniel Lama was recovering from the earlier gunshot wound to the
Combat Support Hospital
The surge operation continued as we returned to base.
The commander and the terrorist were both being prepped for
surgery, when LTC Kurilla said, "Tell Major Bieger to call my
wife so she doesn't get a call from the Army first." But someone
gave the commander a cell phone, and I heard Kurilla talking to
his wife, Mary Paige, saying something like, "Honey, there has
been a little shooting here. I got hit and there was some minor
soft tissue damage." The X-ray on the board nearby showed his
femur snapped in half. "I'll be fine. Just some minor stuff."
That poor woman.
The doctors rolled LTC Kurilla and the terrorist into OR and our
surgeons operated on both at the same time. The terrorist turned
out to be one Khalid Jasim Nohe, who had first been captured by
US forces (2-8 FA) on 21 December, the same day a large bomb
exploded in the dining facility on this base and killed 22
That December day, Khalid Jasim Nohe and two compatriots tried to
evade US soldiers from 2-8 FA, but the soldiers managed to stop
the fleeing car. Then one of the suspects tried to wrestle a
weapon from a soldier before all three were detained. They were
armed with a sniper rifle, an AK, pistols, a silencer, explosives
and other weapons, and had in their possession photographs of US
bases, including a map of this base.
That was in December.
About two weeks ago, word came that Nohe's case had been
dismissed by a judge on 7 August. The Coalition was livid.
According to American officers, solid cases are continually
dismissed without apparent cause. Whatever the reason, the result
was that less than two weeks after his release from Abu Ghraib,
Nohe was back in Mosul shooting at American soldiers.
LTC Kurilla repeatedly told me of--and I repeatedly wrote
about--terrorists who get released only to cause more trouble.
Kurilla talked about it almost daily. Apparently, the vigor of
his protests had made him an opponent of some in the Army's
Detention Facilities chain of command, but had otherwise not
changed the policy. And now Kurilla lay shot and in surgery in
the same operating room with one of the
catch-and-release-terrorists he and other soldiers had been
warning everyone about.
When Kurilla woke in recovery a few hours after surgery, he
called CSM Prosser and asked for a Bible and the book: Gates of
Fire. Kurilla gives a copy of Gates of Fire to every new officer
and orders them to read it. He had given me a copy and told me to
read it. In my book, there is a marked passage, which I thought
rather flowery. But I have it beside me on the table by the map
"I would be the one. The one to go back and speak. A pain beyond
all previous now seized me. Sweet life itself, even the
desperately sought chance to tell the tale, suddenly seemed
unendurable alongside the pain of having to take leave of these
whom I had come so to love."
A short time after he gave me the book, following the death of
one of his soldiers, when Kurilla said to me, "I want you to
write about my men. You are the only one who might understand,"
the passage finally registered in my mind.
I asked CSM Prosser if I could go with him to see the commander.
Carrying both books, we drove to the Cash. Major Mark Bieger
arrived alongside Kurilla's hospital bed, paying respect. After
spending some time with the commander, CSM Prosser and I drove
back to the unit.
The Deuce Four
The truest test of leadership happens when the commander is no
longer there. Kurilla's men were taking down and boxing up his
photos of his wife and children, and his Minnesota Vikings flag,
when they decided to keep the flag so everyone could autograph
it. It wasn't long before there was no room left to sign, but I
found a place to scratch. I wanted my name on that flag.
The place suddenly felt hollowed-out.
When I came back into the TOC, Major Michael Lawrence — who
I often challenge to pull-up contests, and who so far has beat me
(barely) every time — looked me square and professionally,
in the direct way of a military leader, and asked, "Mike, did you
pick up a weapon today?"
"Did you fire that weapon?"
"If you pick up another weapon, you are out of here the next day.
"We still have to discuss what happened today."
Writers are not permitted to fight. I asked SFC Bowman to look at
the photos and hear what happened. Erik Kurilla and CSM Prosser
were witness, but I did not want the men of Deuce Four who were
not there to think I had picked up a weapon without just
cause. I approached SFC Bowman specifically, because he is
fair, and is respected by the officers and men. Bowman would
listen with an open mind. While looking at the photos, Bowman
said, "Mike, it's simple. Were you in fear for your life or the
lives of others?"
"Thank you Sergeant Bowman," I said.
I walked back to the TOC and on the way, Chaplain Wilson said,
"Hello Michael. Are you feeling all right?"
"Yes Chaplain Wilson!" Why does he always ask that? Do I look
stressed? But suddenly, I felt much better. Chaplain Wilson might
be the only man in the universe with a chance of getting me into
the chapel of my own free will, but I have resisted so far.
Only a few hours had passed since Daniel Lama and the commander
were shot. It was around 9PM when I heard Captain Matt McGrew was
going to see Kurilla. I asked to come along. We entered the
hospital, and saw that Erik Kurilla's bed was beside Daniel
Lama's. Kurilla went from asleep to wide awake in about a
quarter-second, said hello and asked us to sit down.
After some conversation, the commander looked over at the next
bed and asked, "How are you doing SGT Lama?"
"Good," the commander said, "you are my new PSD." [Personal
Security Detachment: bodyguard.]
Daniel Lama smiled, got out of bed and I shot a photo of him
reporting for his new duty.
Sgt Daniel Lama: less than one hour from flying out of Mosul
It was near 10PM when the airplane that would start their journey
back to America landed outside, its engines rumbling the hospital
floor. The terrorist who shot Kurilla, and who was now a eunuch
in a nearby bed, might well have been the same terrorist who,
after being released, shot Lama and Thompson and others. Kurilla
could see Khalid Jasim Nohe, but made no comment.
As Captain McGrew and I drove through the dusty darkness back to
the Deuce Four, the commander and SGT Lama, along with other
wounded and dead soldiers from around Iraq, began their journey
The next day, Iraqi Army and Police commanders were in a fury
that LTC Kurilla had been shot. Some blamed his men, while others
blamed the terrorists, although blame alone could not compete
with disbelief. Kurilla had gone on missions every single day for
almost a year. Talking with people downtown. Interfacing with
shop owners. Conferencing with doctors. Drinking tea with Iraqi
citizens in their homes. Meeting proud mothers with new babies.
It's important to interact and take the pulse of a city in a war
where there is no behind the lines, no safe
areas. It's even dangerous on the bases here.
In order for leaders of Kurilla's rank to know the pulse of the
Iraqi people, they must make direct contact. There's a risk in
that. But its men like Kurilla who can make this work. Even and
especially in places like Mosul, where it takes a special
penchant for fighting. A passion for the cause of freedom. A true
and abiding understanding of both its value and its costs. An
unwavering conviction that, in the end, we will win.
Make no mistake about Kurilla--he's a warrior, always at the
front of the charge. But it's that battle-hardened bravery that
makes him the kind of leader that Americans admire and Iraqis
respect. Like the soldiers of Deuce Four, Iraqis have seen too
much war to believe in fairy tales. They know true warriors
Iraqi Army and Police officers see many Americans as too soft,
especially when it comes to dealing with terrorists. The Iraqis
who seethe over the shooting of Kurilla know that the cunning
fury of Jihadists is congenite. Three months of air-conditioned
reflection will not transform terrorists into citizens.
Over lunch with Chaplain Wilson and our two battalion surgeons,
Major Brown and Captain Warr, there was much discussion about the
ethics of war, and contention about why we afford
top-notch medical treatment to terrorists. The treatment
terrorists get here is better and more expensive than what many
Americans or Europeans can get.
"That's the difference between the terrorists and us," Chaplain
Wilson kept saying. "Don't you understand? That's the
[editorial note: this journalist is to be commended for his
insight and sensitivity while objectively reporting on
the anti-terrorism campaign; we are reminded of the journalist
visiting an A-Camp during the Vietnam War, and when it was
attacked by the enemy, he was asked by a Special Forces sergeant
if he was going to fight or referee? ... in other words, would he
take sides or stand in the middle? ... which anecdote has been
preserved by Robin Moore in both the book and film versions of
The Green Berets]