This is the second part to my “Alamo” story. I have tried to recreate this event, locales and conversations from my memories of them. Writing this post has been a challenge. In order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and home towns of individuals involved. The trauma of losing brothers in arms is terrible enough. I didn’t want to add to the pain of loss to their families. For my part, I pray for the comfort of the families of the fallen and eternal rest for my brothers.

marine outpost in afghanistanI swung through the entrance of my room to the outside catwalk, exposing myself to the last place where I had seen the enemy. I remember thinking to myself, “I am going to get hit. Please don’t hit me in the face.” I searched for movement…nothing.

I looked at the Afghan Police compound across the street. Both of our compounds formed a makeshift cul-de-sac at the top of the incline from the main base, closed at the end by a wall of hesco that ran perpendicular to the street below and separated the government center from the town of Musa Qala, outside of the wall. Confusing right?

With my weapon at high ready, I crept to the end of the catwalk. There was movement in my left peripheral. Not moving my rifle, I looked over to the left to catch a glimpse of three friendlies of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), geared up and rushing towards the detainee holding area directly across the street. 

One of the additional duties at the District Center was to stand duty as the QRF.  If you were ambulatory, you were on the watch with the responsibility to muster and move toward the direction of danger. The command and every Marine depended on the QRF to meet and engage until support followed.

There were two Marines in the lead; Lance Corporal Ron Wilson, 20, from Ohio, and Private First Class John Vittori, 19, from Tennessee. Mark Dease, an Irishman from Co Derry, accompanied the Marines as the third member of the initial QRF.  Dease was a NATO contractor for a British firm, training the Afghan police force.

They must’ve known what was going on. They weapons were raised and pointed towards a detaining area of three cells between the Afghan police compound and hesco wall with a doorway that opened onto the street between us. To the right of the jail entrance was a covered bunker constructed of shoulder-high sandbags with a camouflaged net roof. Since arriving in Musa Qala, I had never seen the bunker manned. 

The QRF was moving quickly along the wall opposite my building. Dease looked up at me and pointed to the jail entrance, where the cells were built into the side of the police compound on the first floor. I moved to the end of the catwalk, where I took an overwatch position within twenty meters of the jail entrance.

afghan jail

Back entrance to the jail. The jail was built into the back of the Afghan Police compound.

Wilson, Vittori, and Dease moved along the wall of the police compound until it came to a corner where turning left presented a set-in of five or six meters from the jail entrance doorway. The entrance was a flimsy wooden door, left open most of the time.

My overwatch position was a sketchy spot, considering the total lack of cover. But I had a good angle to see what was happening inside the jail enclave.

Everything was fluid; what I mean is things just started to happen, and I had absolutely no control over any of it. The three-man stack approached the corner. Wilson stopped at the end of the building, peeking around the corner. Wilson pivoted around the corner, weapon at high ready. My stomach knotted up as all three moved as one element, fearlessly towards the jail entrance.

A barrage of bullets came out of nowhere. They tore through the camouflage netting hanging over the side of my building. The bullets sounded like a swarm of pissed-off hornets. 7.62 mm rounds chipped away at the concrete walls, stairs, and windows, throwing shards of concrete and brick in every direction. There was little time to react.

I squeezed the trigger and got two, maybe three, shots off before my ass hit the concrete floor. I rolled to the left and was prone on the steps that lead below. I was partially deaf and shocked by the enormous sound of gunfire, pops, cracks, and ricochets of bullets impacting our building. It sounded like the gunmen had gone cyclic (holding the trigger down on fully automatic and letting the belts of ammunition run through the gun until empty or failure). The gunfire drowned out any yelling or screaming. A cloud of dust and the smell of burnt gunpowder saturated the scene.

I figured the gunfire had to be coming from just within the jail entrance, the jail cells themselves (that I could see from my position on the second floor), a break in the wall, or the old sandbag bunker right outside the jail walls.  

Then, there was dead silence. I got up and crept back onto the catwalk. I heard movement behind the jail walls. I again had the overwhelming feeling that I was going to get shot in the face. I drew down on the jail entrance and tried to assess the scene, searching for any movement from the QRF, scanning the buildings and roofs around me, and keeping an eye on the hill to my left to see if anyone was coming up. Everything was in slow motion, a blur.

Silence. The type of dead silence where you know something big is about to happen. The dust began to settle, revealing a horrific scene. Wilson and Vittori were slumped over each other, within arm’s distance of the entrance to the jail. Dease was on the ground, a couple of meters from Wilson and Vittori, sitting up against the wall, breathing heavily. He was white as a ghost. Our eyes met. He was in bad shape.

I stood up to move along the catwalk. As I approached, I caught movement from my left peripheral toward the jail entrance. As I panned my gaze to the entrance, I was dumbfounded to see one of the gunmen partially expose himself through the entrance of the jail. Judging by the amount of fire he’d put out initially, I thought he might have been running low on ammo and needed another weapon. I drew down on him and placed my reticle center mass. My sight picture appeared and disappeared as my hands were shaking uncontrollably. With fury, I pulled the trigger.


Misfire. Fuck me.

Of all the times, why now?

I racked the bolt on my weapon and aimed back in, but he had backtracked into the jail enclave. Every couple of seconds, I fired a pair of bullets high above the jail entrance walls.

I was shooting high, real high. Just enough to let the enemy know I was there.  I didn’t want to shoot our casualties, who were only feet from the jail entrance where the enemy had set up a firing position.  

I couldn’t tell how many we were facing. I knew one of them had an RPG, which weighed heavily on me. The compound opens up to the main street, so there’s no telling how many bad guys have entered that way. Fear engulfed me.

Where the fuck is everybody else?!” – I thought.

I heard more noises from both sides of the jail enclosure. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the bunker outside or inside the jail cells, partly visible from my position on the second-floor catwalk. I ran up and down the catwalk to get a better angle on either the gunmen hiding directly behind the jail entrance or another guy I saw maneuvering between the jail cells. I continued to switch, firing at the jail cells, and then firing above the entrance, then to the bunker, trying to locate and isolate the gunmen with random fire.

My thoughts drifted to snipers zeroing in on me from the surrounding buildings. There was no shortage of them.  I didn’t have my Kevlar or body armor on, and my only cover was the flimsy guardrail wrapped around the 2nd floor. There was just no time.  

I wasn’t taking calm, collected shots. It was more me taking potshots in the enemy’s general direction – over the casualties, then ducking back into cover when the insurgent replied with a burst of his own bigger, meaner, more damaging bullets. I figured it was only a matter of time before I got hit…and the fucking RPG.

Another burst of enemy machine gunfire, this time aimed at the roof, sent me to my knees as shards of concrete peppered the catwalk and ground floor below.

The situation looked bleak. The enemy had a clear field of fire from which he owned the ground floor. The only thing in my favor was that I held the heights. They couldn’t maneuver on the ground without me shooting at them.

I thought to myself, “I know I’ve said this before, BUT, this is literally it man, I’m outgunned, and they have an RPG.” I felt death near. I aimed back in and fired a pair of shots into the jail cells, ducking back into cover.

Time had slowed down. What felt like hours were only minutes as I kept a wary eye to the left, on the hill leading up to our cluster of buildings. I wasn’t sure if anyone down the hill knew the severity of the situation. I could see someone walking back up the hill, unaware of the existential gunfight just up the street and walking right into the death trap the enemy gunmen set.

I saw the figure of a guy casually walking up the hill. A second look confirmed it was Thumper strolling along, oblivious to the hell he was walking into. I dashed halfway across the 2nd-floor catwalk. The only words I could muster were, “Dude! We’re getting fucked up, get your ass up here, please! Go around the front!” It was nothing short of a plea. I was scared.

Thumper immediately recognized the severity of the situation and ran around the front of our building and up the stairs to the catwalk.  I spotted more Marines from the QRF now cresting the hill. A wave of semi-relief hit me.

afghan police compound

2nd floor of Afghan Police compound. 

The Marines moved into position along the Afghan Police compound facing me. I let them know I thought the biggest threat was right behind the jail entrance, where the enemy had an RPG prepped. Sgt Beck, one of QRFs squad leaders, yelled to his Marines to get into position along the Police compound wall facing me.

I ran back across the catwalk as fast as I could, expecting bullets to tear through my chest at any moment. I tripped along the way. My knee went down, and I almost face-planted. I returned to the corner and brought my rifle back to high ready, aiming in on the jail entrance.


Suddenly I heard footsteps behind me, coming up the stairs. My blood froze. I swung my rifle around as quick as I could to meet Thumper center mass.

“You fuckin asshole,” – I gasped.

“Dude, what the fuck is going on?”

“Ugh, nothing good, man, they’re down there – behind the walls, AND they got a….” before I could finish explaining that the enemy possessed an RPG, Thumper drew down his rifle and let loose a volley of bullets, rendering me deaf in my left ear for the remainder of the week.

“Dammit man, I’m trying to tell you that they have a fucking….”

Bang! Bang! … Bang! Bang! Bang! – Thumper’s rifle interrupts.

“That dude keeps popping out!” – Thumper yells.

“Fuck it” – Bang Bang Bang… Bang.

Communication in combat is FUBAR.

By this time, every Marine on the base was flooding the area, forming an outer cordon around the police compound. Squad leaders on the ground were maneuvering their Marines into firing positions on the ground floor and onto the roof above me.

I heard movement beneath me, under the catwalk, where Marines were moving into a defensive position behind a 5×5 block of hesco barrier jutting out from the main wall. It was the only cover on my side of street, otherwise, you were in the kill zone. The enemy could fire on all avenues of approach. There was no way to assault the enemy from our building without taking a lot of casualties. 

I could hear gunfire impacting the hesco barrier below me. After firing a couple rounds, I looked over the guardrail, down to the 5×5 block of hesco and saw Corporal Brenner, an Intel analyst with the S-2,  sitting with his back against the hesco, facing the back of our building. He was bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to his head and midsection. He wasn’t moving.

CORPSMEN! Doc! Doc! Get the fuck over here!”

The Marines stacked up on the back of my building were already on the move to get Brenner. I turned around and saw a group of Marines rushing down the narrow corridor under me toward Brenner without concern for their safety. I turned around and joined the chorus of covering fire while the Marines on the ground floor below grabbed Brenner and dragged him to the back of our building. It happened so quickly I didn’t have time to process whether or not Brenner was dead. Again, everything was just fluid.

The QRF drove one of their gun trucks up the hill with an M2 .50 caliber machine gun. I could see the spiraling cloud of dust kicked up by the MATV as it came to a screeching halt behind the police compound. If we couldn’t assault through the jail’s entrance, we could always resort to blowing a hole in the back of the jail compound and assault through the back of the jail cells… easier said than done, but the Ma Deuce could abide.

Thumper set up in a window facing the Afghan police compound and began to engage the gunmen behind the jail wall. The QRF Marines near the police compound had managed to grab Dease from around the corner of the building and were preparing an assault to recover Wilson and Vittori.

But as the Marines approached, the gunmen fired sporadically through the entrance and into the area surrounding the downed Marines. Fuck. Maybe they had a spotter relaying our movements from one of the many surrounding buildings. We scanned the surrounding area from the catwalk, looking for spotters on top of buildings or dickers with radios on motorbikes in the streets.

The silence was broken with long bursts of deafening firing, then silence again, punctuated by single potshots, sending us to the ground because we thought it was a sniper zeroing in on us.

Window view from our room. The Afghan Police compound is across the street.

Thumper yelled out, “I see him! He keeps popping up on the other side of the bunker.” There was so much shit going on at once. The volume of fire intensified, and grenades started to explode as the QRF Marines on the ground tried to get to the wounded Marines just outside of the jail entrance. I could hear the Marines frantically yelling as they fought.

Signaling with the QRF below, the plan was for us to lay down heavy gunfire from the second floor and roof, covering the Marines maneuvering their way to the causalities on the ground. Once they got to the corner of the compound, the lead Marine would toss grenades into the jail entrance. We would unleash hell from the second floor and rooftop once they detonated. The Marines on the ground would then swarm the casualties, dragging them out of the kill zone.

Once again, a long cyclic burst of gunfire and the Marines fell back along the compound wall. The enemy was just baiting us at this point. A trick as old as time. The gunmen sporadically shot at the casualties, and it was driving everyone insane. Literally.

I could hear Marines yelling below and behind me somewhere downstairs.


“We’ll cover you, come on up” – I yelled.

Four Marines dashed up the stairs and piled into our room. I kept my sites on the jail entrance. I recognized some of the guys from QRF. A couple were combat replacements from 1/8. One of the Marines, Lance Corporal Lewis, was bleeding profusely from face.

Lewis was amped. We tried to calm him down and figure out where he was hit, but he was inconsolable. Wilson and Vittori were two of his best friends. He kept trying to get up and run down into the kill zone to get them. Two Marines had to hold him up against the wall to stop him from moving. His screams for his friends tore at my heart. Every burst from the enemy machine gun sent him deeper into a rage.

“We gotta get Lewis out of here.” – Cpl. Barlow.

Two QRF Marines physically moved Lewis to the doorway.

“WE GOT MARINES COMING OUT!” – Barlow yelled to the Marines on the ground floor.

Corporal Barlow, Lance Corporal Miller, and I crept back on the catwalk. As I crept, I saw the silhouette of a person moving inside the old sandbag bunker outside of the jail.

“There’s a fucking dude in that bunker, man.” – I yelled. 

Barlow grabbed a 40mm grenade from his chest rig. He slid open the breach to his M203, inserted the high explosive grenade, and locked it shut.

“FRAG OUT!” – we yelled.

Without hesitation, he took his trigger finger and flipped the safety forward. He took one cool, collected breath, exhaled slowly, and squeezed. There was a low, muffled pop, and the round left the tube. It sailed to the back of the jail enclosure and exploded. 

Weaver, Miller, and I unloaded ten to fifteen rounds into the bunker and jail cells. The silhouette disappeared. Two Marines helped Lewis down the stairs, then dashed the twenty meters to the back of the White House. I looked back and saw the Battalion XO at the back of our building, waving the Marines on. More QRF Marines surrounded him.

Ok. Back to square one. I aimed above the jail wall as multiple grenades were tossed over.

“Frag out! Frag out!”




In unison, we fired everything we had into the jail enclave. The noise was deafening. The Marines on the ground swarmed to Wilson and Vittori, grabbing them by their plate carrier, blouse, and pants and pulling them around the corner into cover, where Doc immediately began working on them.  

Seconds later, the MATV let loose several long bursts of fire from its Ma Deuce into the east side of the police compound walls. The noise was beyond deafening. It drowned out all other sounds and thoughts in the immediate area. The gunfire crescendoed and then stopped abruptly.

End of Part II


OldSarg · November 12, 2018 at 23:16

Wow! Absolutely great.

    Danette · November 21, 2018 at 18:08

    I’m in tears Michael

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