From Army Times.

Training at hand
Fighting in Iraq, one soldier decides he isn’t going to die lying down

By Staff Sgt. Paul McCully

The following story was told by infantryman Staff Sgt. Paul McCully, 24, during a post-action interview for the Army Combatives School.

On June 1, 2005, at about 2 a.m., my platoon was staged by the main gate of Forward Operating Base Courage in Mosul, Iraq, as the quick-reaction force for our battalion.

We received a call that Iraqi commandos were conducting a raid on a suspected insurgent safe house. When the commandos entered the house they found one male, one nude female and next to them was a bomb.

They immediately left the house because of the bomb and sat outside in the middle of the street and wherever they could while they waited for us to come and secure the objective. There were guys sleeping, smoking cigarettes and just hanging around. There were at least 100 of these commandos.

When we showed up, it was a blind hit. All the Iraqi commandos told us was that they had taken fire from that building earlier. They left out that it was a safe house for bad guys and that the people who had been there had jumped the roof to the next house.

At the home of the bomb couple, my team was the second in to secure the first floor and establish a foothold. Once we cleared the house, my platoon sergeant stepped on what seemed to be a loose tile in the kitchen floor.

When we removed it we found a large cache of rocket-propelled grenades, ammo, U.S. government-issued C4 explosive, two-way radios and multiple weapons systems, but no people.

Since the roof was connected to the roof of the house behind the one we were in, the call was made to move around and clear that house, too. Once my team moved into position to breach the second house, we were given the word to move and secure it.

Immediately upon entry, we were confronted by about 20 men, women and children, who were all awake and seemed scared. The fact that they were bunched together like that was a red flag that something was not right.

Once we secured the first floor, my team moved in to secure the group of people so we could move up to the next floor and to the roof entrance.

The door was barricaded from the inside with a bed frame to keep people from coming in. Once we managed to move the barricade, we stacked on the door and proceeded to clear the roof.

I was the second man in the stack, and Sgt. Joshua Owens was first.

We were spread thin, so we mixed our teams to keep the forward momentum.

Owens went out and turned right. I followed him and went left, but there was a wall, so I fanned right to cover Owens.

We were only a couple of steps outside the door; I was just to the left of Owens, and about two seconds had passed by, when a bright flash lit us up.

I wasn’t sure what had happened, I just knew I was laid out on my stomach, and I couldn’t feel my hands or legs. I could hear Owens screaming, and I was checking myself to see if I was physically intact when another explosion went off, a hand grenade, but it wasn’t as loud as the first one.

I felt the shrapnel impact my helmet but was still in a daze and confused as to what was going on.

Then I felt something that seemed to be tapping my helmet and everything sounded muffled.

My initial thought was that it was my guys pulling me out of there, but when I looked up, everything came back to me — sound, reality, cleared vision.

There was a bad guy standing over me.

I was looking up at him and expecting him to unload his AK47 on me, but he was screaming and butt-stroking me in the head.

The second I realized that it wasn’t my guys, I got up as fast as I could and grabbed his AK muzzle with my right hand and his shirt on his right shoulder with my left hand.

I don’t even remember placing my hands on the ground to push myself up; it just seemed like I floated up — that’s how fast it happened.

After I grabbed him and his weapon, I was jerking it in an outward motion but making sure to keep the muzzle away from me.

After what seemed to be two or three seconds, I got the AK out of his hands and on the ground to the right of me a couple of feet. I had finally jerked it free, and it went flying.

He tried to dive for the AK, but I grabbed him and went to the clinch with him to control him. A clinch is when you control a person’s upper body by placing both your hands around his neck. Our bodies were close together; I had his hair in my right hand, pushing his head down, and my left hand was controlling his left shoulder.

I immediately started throwing right uppercuts and knees to [mess] him up.

I did that because I thought that there were more of my own guys behind me, but it turns out that Owens and I were the only ones to make it outside before the initial explosion. The No. 3 and No. 4 men got blown back into the building.

After I threw the blows, I held on to him with the shirt and hair and extended my arms to allow the guys who I thought were behind me to have a clear shot. But that never happened. It seemed like I was alone, and nobody was there to help me.

He was screaming stuff about Allah as I continued to hit him as he was struggling to get to his weapon. Owens came running up to me with his pistol drawn. He had lost his M4 rifle in the blast also, so he pulled his M9 pistol.

He came up to my right side, right next to me so he wouldn’t shoot me in the struggle. Right as he fired one shot into the enemy’s stomach, the enemy had reached up and grabbed Owen’s pistol.

At that moment I let go and took a step back and secured my M4. Owens had swung him around to the left, which put him right in front of me.

With Owens and the bad guy fighting for Owens’ M9, I put the barrel of my rifle in the bad guy’s right side, point-blank, right underneath his armpit, and fired a single shot.

The bad guy squealed like a pig and hit the ground like a sack, landing on his back. I immediately placed the barrel of my rifle in his face and fired ten shots to finish him. All of this happened within a matter of about 20 seconds, but seemed like forever.

As far as my kit goes, I didn’t have a knife on me at that time. I was wearing a Tactical Taylor plate carrier with 7.62 x 61mm armor-piercing incendiary-proof plates, hatch operator gloves, ballistic eye-pro and knee pads.

After I shot him in the face, I took a knee and was trying to comprehend everything that had just happened. It was just kind of, I was like, “Holy shit, did this just happen?” It was kind of like a weird euphoria thing going on.

My platoon leader came out and asked if we were hit, and I told him nothing hurt, but my leg felt different. They pulled me and Owens into the building for the medic. Since we had blood and charred flesh and hair all over us, it was hard for the medic to tell what was ours and what wasn’t.

So Spc. Danny Pech, our platoon medic, and Spc. Joshua Curley, my rifleman, with the help of Spc. Jay Banuelos, carried us down to the designated casualty collection point and started stripping us down so they could administer aid.

My wound was first reported as a gunshot wound to my right thigh, and Owens had a bullet graze on his right shin and shrapnel to the arms and legs.

Once we were medevaced to the main combat support hospital on Forward Operating Base Diamondback in Mosul, we were given morphine and sent for X-rays to see what was inside us.

My wound was actually shrapnel, which split into three pieces when it impacted my leg, stopping just short of my femoral artery. Owens had shrapnel in his arm and leg and a bullet graze on his right shin.

I’ve always been a pretty aggressive person, but having some stuff to back you up, the Army combatives training, is great. Knowledge and experience is always good to have.

When I looked up and saw [the enemy] standing over me, all I really thought about was, “This guy’s going to blast me.” I was thinking about how I was going to let my kids down, and I just said, “Screw it, I’m not going to die lying down like this.” I just jumped up and expected him to pull the trigger, but he never got the chance.

The writer is assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, in Vilseck, Germany. At the time of the events, he was a member of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of Fort Lewis, Wash.


Sound like a pretty scary contact. I'd question the "7.62mm x 61mm armor-piercing incendiary-proof plates", though. Given that usual body armour gives (supposed) protection against 7.62mm x 35mm (AK 47) rounds, but not against 7.62/51mm (the old NATO round). Anybody got any more up-to-date info on these plates?


One thing I think that we sometimes overlook in the infantry is unarmed/ CQ combat. If you read about the training before D Day, unarmed combat was right up there. These days the RM still do a lot, but my experience of it in the inf is very limited.

I think this is another example of how we are re-learning lessons forgotten since WW2.

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