It was a day just like any other. At this point in our tour, our Route Clearance job had become routine. Boring, almost. We rode around the countryside of Afghanistan in the winter months, the fighting season over with for the most part. There were still bombs to find but they were very few, and very far between.
The villagers wherever we went were usually inside. The high temperatures for the days averaged around 40* F (4* Celcius). We patrolled the fertile Kandahar River valley, and all the farmers had better things to do than be outside and freeze. Some mornings the small puddles even had a skim coat of ice on them.
Today must've been a little warmer day though, because people were outside. We passed through a village we'd patrolled a hundred times. Today there were three or four children running around an open area next to the road, while a younger man (probably a father) interacted with them from a short distance. He had his car parked on a road nearby. There was nothing else going on today, so I settled on watching the show. The kids were running around, laughing. The young man was pointing and commenting on thier play. I was probably 50 meters away. It was relaxing to watch, since the kids and adults always hid in their huts and peered out through doors and windows whenever a bomb was nearby. The young man must've gotten a phone call, because he pulls his cellphone out of his pocket and stares at it for a moment.
....and suddenly the lead gunner opens fire. I'm in the guntruck behind him, sitting behind my .50 cal machine gun.
I hear one shot and see the dirt kick up near the young man's feet. It looks like he turns in slow motion and starts running towards his car. I'm watching the scene in shock that the lead gunner had a f*cking misfire and almost iced a dude in front of these kids. The lead gunner's frantic voice comes over the radio.
"My gun's jammed!"
My mind swarms with the possible outcomes of this situation as this man is running for his life. I know a few things for certain.
It is now my job to finish what the first gunner started.
This guy is the least suspicious guy I've seen, and from my point of view this guy is most likely innocent. Nobody stands out in the open 15 meters from the vehicle you're trying to blow up, then pulls out a cell phone in full view of an American convoy. As just demonstrated, this is suicide.
If I don't finish this interaction with my gun, I best have a damn good reason not to.
The guy is still running in slow motion towards his car, and has made it about a quarter of the way there. The kids are starting to scatter, but are in an open area blocked in by a mud wall protecting their village.
I hear the lead gunner come back over the radio, not sure exactly what he says though. I'm locked onto this guy as he runs, the kids are behind him. I see my alibi and key the mike to my headset.
"There's kids behind him! I can't shoot..."
There, in fact were kids behind him that would either be receiving stray bullets or pieces of human flesh if I shot this guy right now. The guy is halfway to his car and an idea pops in my head: Shoot the engine block. Maybe I can get the interpreter to call the guy over the intercom to stop.
I realize that in the quickness of the situation I'll just prolong the inevitable: The guy's gonna keep running, then he'll either get gunned down by the lead gunner, or I'm gonna have to do it.
Someone's voice comes over the intercom "SHOOT!!!"
The guy has cleared the kids and is wide open for a clean kill. I have no problem killing a terrorist. In my mind, this guy ain't no terrorist.
The guy makes it to his car, starts it up and peels out of there, tires spinning and dirt flying as his car barrels away from us down a gravel road.
I get some grief over the radio for not killing the guy, and defend myself. Mainly I say that there were kids behind him, and I signed up to kill terrorists, not kids. I say I didn't see his cell phone, and thought the main gunner misfired at first. Honestly, I seen him dig in his pocket and look down at his hand. In. The. Wide. Open. He wasn't hiding like an actual terrorist would.
The Huskies in our convoy scan the route and area nearby and turn up nothing. We continue on our route as usual.
The Lt. asks what happened, and I know the Battalion Commander, and probably more brass than I care to know is most likely listening in. I stick to my story, explain myself as articulately as possible. We get done with the mission, and the driver for the lead gun truck comes up to me with disappointment in his eyes.
"Don't ever let a guy go like that. If someone else shoots at him, you've got to kill him."
I look him right in the eyes.
"If he was a triggerman, where's the bomb?"
I walk away.
I got pulled off mission for a day, maybe two or three, don't really remember. I honestly forgot about this day until last year, 9 years later, and wrestled with what happened since then. Apparently my mind blocked it out.
The next day the driver of the lead gun truck comes up to me after their mission.
"Well, we went back to that spot today and found the bomb and disposed of it."
I look in his eyes and I know: They didn't find a bomb. They said they did, called it in, and "disposed" of it with explosives. It isn't the first time they've done something like this, just not under this situation.
I look him back, and he knows that I know.
"I'm sure you did find that bomb."
Full Library of my work on this subreddit
Kandahar the long way revisited (Video): https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/5iipp4/kandahar_the_long_way_revisited_video/
Part 16 (accidentally numbered 15): https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/4rmg7q/doc_gets_bloody_memories_of_a_combat_engineer/
Part 30 (wrongly titled Part 29): https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/mb5c1j/homecoming_memories_of_a_combat_engineer_part_29/
Part 31 (wrongly titled Part 30): https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/q8qg9m/smiley_proves_the_men_to_be_boys_memories_of_a/
Unnumbered Afghanistan story: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/9u3gfn/if_the_roe_was_different_them_kids_might_be_dead/
Basic Training Marksmanship story: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/dw97s8/how_my_battle_buddy_in_basic_training_got/
Paranormal experiences of Boot Camp story: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/45udn9/one_of_those_weird_ghost_stories_about_boot_camp/
A story of my platoon while training for our tour: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/59u58o/the_honeybadgers/
Combat Engineer School, the one (and probably only) day when I was awesome: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/57nkcv/the_one_and_possibly_only_time_i_showed_everyone/
My National Guard's Christmas Party: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/a85gua/my_national_guards_christmas_party_a_few_months/
A story of my Uncle: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/5or28p/uncle_john_the_vietnam_vet/
The time I learned about a new spot to clean in an M-16: https://www.reddit.com/r/MilitaryStories/comments/rm70r6/much_to_my_embarrassment_a_clean_finger_plunges/
Subscribe to our newsletter
Promotions, new products and sales. Directly to your inbox.