The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


August 02, 2007

Name: American Soldier
Returned from: Iraq
Posting date: 8/2/07
Milblog url

I shot a man once for driving his vehicle towards me in Iraq. He was off the road and at an accelerated pace. He was within 100 meters before I shot him and even then it would have been too late if he had set off his charge. The scenario played out in my head over and over after, and to this day I think about it.

I wondered if he was just a pawn trying to test our limit and how we would react to that situation. The terrorists we fought against were testy little pricks. It was almost like a game of cat and mouse sometimes.

They knew our ROE (Rules of Engagement) and always seemed to reach the point of almost getting killed. However, this time it played out a little different. I never tried to go out of my way to hurt anyone.

Sometimes you had to be rough and other times it wasn’t needed, but you never gave an inch. This particular day was like any other day in Ramadi. It was morning and curfew was just coming off. We were doing our rounds in and out of the city, keeping the main roadways clear and sustaining a watchful eye for people stopping and dropping. This was a common method -- a vehicle comes to a stop, drops an IED, and then just drives on.

One thing that was a challenge in the city was the amount of traffic in the morning. It would build up, and despite having an up-armored vehicle you couldn’t move an entire column of traffic. You could bump and grind at times, but things always seemed to bottleneck at certain points. You tried your best to not get into those situations.

On this particular morning my crew and I had decided to stay at the lower part of one road.There was a Bradley at the other end, and they could also watch for people dropping things from their vehicles.

I decided to stop a car to inspect it. It was lowered in the rear. Nine out of ten times the weight is from tires, bad shocks, or just random items in a trunk, but you can never be too careful. So I had my other truck pull security in front of us by pulling ahead of the suspicious vehicle, and my gunner turned around to ensure no other vehicles came towards us. I always tried my best to provide 360 degree coverage. Anyway, the search was routine. Most are, when you have guns pointing in your general direction.

I was looking under one of the seats when I heard one of my guys yell, then a shot rang out. I jumped out and saw this vehicle moving towards us fast.

Now I know this sounds crazy, but in some situations things seem to just go in slow motion. This was one of them. I raised my weapon up and fixed the vehicle into my reflex sight. Here is how it broke down:

-There was already a verbal warning.
- Visual warning.
- A warning shot.
- The vehicle was still coming.

All of this occurred within a few seconds. I estimated that the vehicle was about 100 meters give or take from us. I squeezed my trigger and a single shot found its ways into the driver’s side window, center mass.

The vehicle turned a little and finally came to a rolling stop.

If the vehicle had blown up, my men would most likely have been killed. One hundred meters with a VBIED is sure death. The Rules of Engagement are a guideline, and you do your best to ensure that you follow them in the order prescribed. Sometimes you have to go from waving them off to a disabling shot or even a kill shot. Every time you pull the trigger, you question your decision, which is reality. You have mere seconds to decide if you will kill someone or hesitate. You develop these instincts in war that seem to heighten the will to survive.

The point of this entry is to give you a glimpse of what reality can be like when faced with such tight rules that can cost you your life. Like I said, you develop the instinct and learn it at an accelerated rate from trial and error. Seeing your buddies hurt or killed is that accelerator. The ROE is your worst enemy in war.

However, it can be your best friend when you rationalize the decision to kill someone.


American soldier,
It's hard to make a decision like that and it's sad. You do have to protect yourself and your people and you went by the rules. It's some that don't have positive ID and start shooting anyway, a lot of people could be killed.
All you can do is go by the rules and keep safe.

You did the right thing. If you have any doubt, look at your Soldiers. Nothing happened to them that day. Whatever happened to the driver, it is what it is. ANYONE on the road in al anbar who guns it for any group of Americans is practically and literally suicidal. You erred on the side of him being dead, and you and yours not. I can't say it enough.

You did the right the thing, all the way around.


Of course, taking life is serious business. Being put in a situation like that was never your decision. You just had to make the best of it. Mostly that meant survival.

Not your fault. Shit happens. Good man, taking the whole thing seriously. Bad set of choices offered to you. Best outcome, you live. Plenty of time for replays and recriminations, because you're ALIVE.

Old joke: What is the first Rule of Jungle Warfare? Answer; THERE ARE NO RULES!

At least ROE's are the brick wall to beat your head against. You and yours are still alive. All the rest is small shit.



You do not say explicitly that a VBIED was found in the vehicle. It was implied, but because you are grappling with the situation, the ROE, etc. I am wondering if explosives were found. If so, would you be considering the ROE and how they almost got you killed?

The ROE notwithstanding, this guy was a clear threat to accomplishing whatever your mission was that day, to the lives of your men, and to your own survival. To echo Chris6 above, with an end result of you and yours being alive and this guy being dead, that's the way you want it to be.

I suspect that you will wonder about this for the rest of your life. Take some solace though that in a small way, you have eased the grim burden of the stateside military casualty officers and chaplains, at least for a while.

Stay safe.

I am very impressed that you were able to consider and follow the rules of engagement at that high-stress moment, rather than following blind instinct. I have a new appreciation for the meaning of military training, and the dedication of our fighting men and women.

Thank you for this post, and for making these hard choices. For what it's worth, I believe you did very well in the situation.

God Bless you for what you are doing! You have had to make some difficult choices and I commend you! My dad was a Merrill's Marauder's in WW11. He never spoke about his tough choices, but he is a hero to me as you are to your family I'm sure! Know that we appreciate everything that you have done and are doing for our country!!!!!! Peace! Sonda

First thanj you for serving so that I and my family can sleep safely at night and enjoy the freedoms America has to offer.
Second you made the right decission.
Third you and your men went home that day the guy who was driving did not.

I keep reading that part of the warrior ethos includes being mentally and psychologically sound enough to carry these burdens. You are. You calculated adherence to the rules in a controlled split second.

As a writer, I'm overwhelmed by the presence of mind, precision and professionalism that takes. As an Aunt and Sister of serving soldiers, I don't care if the car was a VBIED or not. It doesn't matter, it's irrelevant. You did right and you did well, in a situation that would crush 95% of us.

Now, if only Moms, Aunts and Grandmas could write the ROE, this war would have been won alot faster.

Brother, I'm just glad you're okay.

Stay safe over there.

You americans are killers.You know taht for sure.

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