SBC Life Articles

Ambushed in Afghanistan

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge;
My savior, You save me from violence. ~ 2 Samuel 22:2-3

My mission in the first half of December started like most others I have had during my time in Afghanistan. It ended up being anything but.

I left Forward Operating Base Salerno on my way to the city of Gardeyz for a ten-day mission, responsible for the lives of sixty-two men. I still remember the last words my commander, Captain Condrey, said to me as I climbed into my up-armored HMMWV for our departure, "Bring 'em all home." Those are the most sobering words I have ever heard, especially as our route would take us through a treacherous mountain pass affectionately known as "Ambush Alley." With that thought lodged in my mind we began our movement. And I realized that though I have no power over life and death, I was responsible to do everything in my power to bring these men back alive.

A week and a half later I was once again nervously preparing to lead my men through the Khowst-Gardeyz Pass. Over the previous week and a half we had seen God's provision in very visible ways. As we were traveling to Gardeyz one of our vehicles broke down in the middle of Ambush Alley. God had already arranged for our protection. A trusted friend was meeting a supply shipment exactly where we broke down. Though he was surprised to find us in the pass, he and his men gladly provided us security as we repaired our broken vehicle.

When we arrived at Gardeyz, the senior officer informed us we would be living in different tents than originally planned. While we were unpacking our equipment and settling into our new tents, we heard the familiar whistle of an incoming rocket. As we dove to the ground, it landed in the midst of the tents we were originally supposed to occupy. Had we been in those tents, as first planned, it certainly would have been the largest single loss of American lives to date in the entire Global War on Terrorism.

Even the atheists in our group conceded that there had been divine intervention involved in protecting us during both our breakdown and the rocket attack. We were thankful that we had survived the day with no casualties, and everyone realized it was not due to our own skill. These memories of God's protection kept running through my mind as I stood looking at the mountains south of Gardeyz, mentally rehearsing and reevaluating the task ahead of me.

While standing by my vehicle, Sergeant First Class Adams approached me. As the senior enlisted man on this mission, he was my right hand and an experienced advisor. He looked up and down the convoy at each of the vehicles. We would have six additional vehicles, Toyota Hiluxes, on this trip through the pass. SFC Adams then looked at the Toyota next to us. He assessed the unarmored vehicle, as he had several times the previous night, and then spoke up. "Sir, are you sure you don't want to ride in one of the up-armors? It wouldn't be good to lose you in the first minute of the firefight if we get hit."

I looked at him with a grim smile and replied, as I had the night prior, "No. The Hilux will let me mount more communications equipment. Besides, nobody can touch me unless God decides it's my time to go, and when He does, there's nowhere for me to hide." I didn't share the rest of my thought from the previous night: if anyone is to get hit in one of these things, it should be me. At least I know where I'm going afterward.

He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head. Turning to walk back to his vehicle, he yelled to the men, "Mount up!" With that command our vehicles roared to life, and we began to move toward the mountains looming before us.

The mountain roads in Afghanistan are narrow and treacherous. Usually they are dirt ribbons, barely two lanes wide, threaded between sheer rock cliffs and seemingly bottomless gorges. In such terrain there is little hope for any force that is ambushed, as it has no place to find cover or room to maneuver. Fully aware of this, my commander's words of the week before came back to me, and I prayed that God would simply get us home.

Weaving our way through the pass as I prayed, we approached the most notorious portion of "Ambush Alley" for the second time in as many weeks. However, this time we did not make the journey untouched.

While we neared the miniscule village of Asmani, my driver, Specialist Shannon, shared he and his wife's plans upon our return to America. As I glanced over at him, my perception of reality suddenly became a slow motion film, every detail etched sharply in my mind. Somehow my eyes saw and my mind comprehended the blast before I felt it. Seeing the explosion on the other side of my driver, I thought, Lord, don't let this hurt, as I closed my eyes and felt the force of the concussion. I was certain my time on Earth was done, as was my driver's.

Men in the trucks behind me saw the blast destroy the rock wall to my right, leaving a silhouette of my truck, as we disappeared in a storm of shrapnel and debris. They fully expected to find SPC Shannon and me dead in the wreckage, but none of them expected that outcome more than I.

As I opened my eyes to a world of dust and smoke, I glanced over at my driver. Somehow he was still driving, and I was still sitting upright. I began searching his body with my eyes and hands for any evidence of blood, as I yelled to him over the muffled silence in my deafened ears. I needed to find out if he had been hit. Finding no blood, and hearing his overly loud reply of, "If you wouldn't yell in my ringing ears, I'd be good!" I was convinced he was uninjured.

As I called over the radio and directed our convoy, SPC Shannon continued to maneuver our damaged vehicle down the road, all the while clearing shattered glass, plastic, and metal from his line of vision. Our convoy kept moving as quickly as possible away from the area of the ambush. Although there were other shots fired, miraculously no one else was hit. Thankfully, we were able to limp back to our base with all of our vehicles and personnel.

Upon arriving at Forward Operating Base Salerno a few hours later, SPC Shannon and I got out of our truck and surveyed the damage. Even though the shrapnel had destroyed the rock wall all around our truck, not a single piece hit our truck. All of the shattered glass and crumpled metal were caused by the concussion of the explosion. He looked at me and gave a disbelieving grin. His statement expressed both of our thoughts, "No way … there's NO way!"

I could only nod and say, "God must have other things planned for you and me." He laughed, and simply said, "Maybe," as he headed to his tent. I was left to ponder the day while I walked to my mission debriefing.

My commander entered the room as I briefed our task force intelligence officer on the events of the day. I could tell by the look on my commander's face he wasn't sure whether to be happy or upset. "Why weren't you in one of the up-armors?" he sternly questioned. I told him the same thing I had told SFC Adams that morning, and I got much the same reaction. He simply shook his head with a laugh, saying, "Well, it's good to have you all home." He slapped my shoulder, smiled, and walked out the door. I was glad to be back, and I was exhilarated at what I had witnessed of God's power.

Christians and non-believers alike have seen the hand of God in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made Himself visible in very tangible ways. Combat is providing countless Christians with opportunities to share their faith and the power of our God.

Please, pray for their safety, but more importantly for their witness. Pray that Christian soldiers, myself included, will be faithful in bringing light to those around them. However, we are not the only torchbearers in this world of darkness and spiritual warfare. We as Christians, all of us, regardless of where we find ourselves, are witnesses. We all have a role in a greater war. We all have been called to allow God to use us in any way to reach the world. We all have certain people for whom God has made us responsible and accountable. We have all been tasked by our Father and Commander to share His message and, "Bring 'em all home." So the question is, will we?

    About the Author

  • William A. Brown, CPT