Contact, Wait out…. Man Down!
On the morning of the 26th of August 2009, whilst conducting a reconnaissance patrol in Musa Qala, Helmand Province, Afghanistan… those were the words which rang out across our patrol base, Minden. Those last 2 words (Man Down) are words no soldier ever wants to hear during an engagement with the enemy and in this particular engagement, those words were concerning myself!
Article written by Alex Jones, re-posted with his permission. Alex Jones is a highly motivated and accomplished individual, experienced in the training and development of personnel. With a passion for health and safety, capable of developing innovative plans and activities designed for safe, efficient and smooth running of operations. Equipped with excellent, interpersonal and communication skills, giving the ability to influence stakeholder’s decisions. Whether part of, or managing, motivating, training and developing a successful and productive team, will always give 100% and influence others, through leading by example. Make sure to follow Alex at Linkedin
It’s something that I very rarely talk of, even with my close friends and family. When asked what happened and what it was like to get shot, my answer has always been very vague. Usually I just say “it was a bit mad like” and end it there. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, but more because I don’t like talking about it. This is usually due to the unavoidable sweaty palms and dry mouth I get, every time I attempt to give more than a brief description of the event. As a result, I usually dodge talking about it whenever asked and I’ve become pretty good at this.
But after recently discovering that the events of that day are published on Wikileaks and reading through the battle damage assessment, it stirred up some quite intense feelings. Therefore, I decided to write down my experience of what it was like leading up to, during and after being shot. I do this not only to finally share my story and answer the questions I’m often asked, but also to process it myself and hopefully lay any ghosts I have from that day to rest.
So here goes:
I was 24 at the time and was deployed as a section 2ic within a rifle platoon. We had been deployed in Helmand for about 6 weeks before I got zapped, during which we had already lost a comrade to an IED (RIP Hunty) and engaged with the enemy on multiple occasions. After previously serving in Iraq, I considered myself to be fairly accustomed to such circumstances. However, Afghanistan was proving to be a very different environment and just operating in the terrain alone was proving challenging enough. After spending just over a week occupying a platoon house, which was appropriately named Zulu, I was keen to start our rotation on patrols and get back out on the ground.
Spending time in the platoon house was great, you were away from the bullshit that went on in Minden and pretty much left alone, it did become a bit of a bore sometimes though, with little to do other than sentry duty and radio watch, making time there drag. We’d receive the odd few bursts from the Taliban on sentry duty, but we were very rarely able to locate the firing points and return fire, which I found very frustrating. After hearing the other platoons getting contacted during patrols at Minden, I was eager to get back there and get some trigger time myself. So when our time came to take over patrols for the week, I was more than happy and left Zulu with a fresh boost of morale.
Our first few days of patrols were fairly uneventful, we’d conduct patrols through the local village and surrounding areas at irregular intervals, as not to set patterns. It was the height of summer at this stage and the heat, coupled with weight of equipment and body armour, made even the shortest of patrols a slog. Still, it was nice to get out of camp for a change of scenery though and I was enjoying the experience.
We’d patrol in multiples of 12-14 troops and with an interpreter. Due to the IED threat most patrols were conducted in single file, with the lead man sweeping for potential explosive devices and the remainder carefully following in his footsteps. We’d always have a heavy machine gun, a sniper and a light machine gun on patrol with us, so lack of firepower was never a concern.
On the evening of the 25th of August, we received our orders for the patrol the next day. We were to push down towards the M4 Wadi, an area not previously patrolled by our company and one which was known to be hostile. Our orders were simple, push down to the previously out-of-bounds area, interact with the locals to gain information on possible Taliban operations and then return to Minden. We were to leave at first light and patrol on foot to the compounds situated around the M4 Wadi, around a kilometer South of Minden, and return no later than mid day.
I awoke in the morning at around 04:00, I was tired and if honest, really not in the mood to go wandering the plains of Afghan. I placed my body armour over my head, it was cold, heavy and still damp from the sweat of the previous days patrolling, I then put a ration pack to warm while we carried out a kit check. I wolfed my lukewarm sausage and beans down my neck and moved up to the main gate, ready to conduct the patrol.
We cocked our weapons and pushed out the gate, heading south in single file.
It was around 05:30 when we stepped out the gate and just starting to get light out. We moved slowly and hand-railed the main track leading to the M4, a warrior fighting vehicle provided us with overwatch and fire support if needed. It was already starting to get warm and I could feel a trickle of sweat running down my back as we moved, but at this point I was getting used to the weight of the kit and felt comfortable carrying it. We’d covered about 600 meters before we stopped, I took a knee and observed my arcs looking for any suspicious locals which might be spotting us. It was still early though and no locals were to be seen.
Normally the absence of locals would be a combat indicator itself but I wasn’t to concerned, they were more than likely still in bed I thought. I was positioned in the middle of the patrol, the 7th man in and as I knelt there I spotted this huge beast of a dog hurtling towards us, an Afghan hound.
Now these Afghan hounds are not the cute, long-haired pooches that you may be familiar with. These are horrible beasts, huge, vicious and a down right terrifying! Far more intimidating that the Taliban at the time. It was not happy with us being there and edged closer to us as it snarled. I raised my rifle and aimed at it as it got to within about 20 meters of us, I remembered a friend from the previous tour telling me how it took 4 shotgun shells to put one down. If it took 4 rounds from a shotgun to stop one, then what chance would I have with my 5.56mm rifle? Thankfully, it backed off and left us alone.
We moved off and took up a position between 2 compounds, we sat there for about 5 minutes and prepared ourselves to cross the 200 meters, or so, of open ground between us and the M4 Wadi. As we sat there our interpreter informed us that the Taliban were preparing to attack on ICOM chatter. It wasn’t unusual to hear this over ICOM when we were patrolling and the Taliban knew we were listening in, it was rarely followed up with an attack. It was when ICOM was quiet we’d worry.
It was still something which we had to take serious however, and this, couple with the fact that there’s wasn’t a local to been seen, ensured we were all switched on. We broke cover from between the compounds and began to cross the open ground, with the main Wadi to our right we headed towards a compound situated on the opposite side of the M4 Wadi to our front, this compound would later become a platoon house known as Kabir.
We kept our spacings wide as we crossed the open ground and I was conscious about staying on the same path as the man in front, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this area was riddled with IEDs and the last thing I would want is to step on a pressure plate. We dropped in to the M4 Wadi and used its natural cover to move down to where it met the main Wadi, there was still no locals to be seen anywhere and the silence put me on edge slightly. We weren’t going to hang around if there was no one to speak to, so our platoon commander made the decision to advance back to camp.
We started to break out from the Wadi in order to cross back over the open ground, back to the compounds we had moved from. I waited my turn and gave the man in front a good distance before I broke cover. I began to relax slightly as I made it about half way across the open ground, setting my sights on the relative safety of the compounds ahead. I was about 80 meters short of the compounds and all I remember was a loud clap over my shoulders, and the feeling as if someone had pushed me.
“Shit, what am I doing on the floor?”
I remember saying to myself , but before I had time to think about what had happened my thoughts were drowned out by the cracks of incoming fire. It was a heavy, accurate rate, realised by the deafening noise.
When a round is fired over your head it makes a loud clapping noise as it breaks the sound barrier and at this point it felt was as though I was in a football stadium, packed with fans and all clapping as their team had just scored a goal.
I screamed as I tried to identify the firing point and fired about 6 rounds in the general direction.
“The tree line across the Wadi, that’s where they’re hitting us from”.
I looked to my left and right for the remainder of my multiple.
“Fuck, where is everyone”.
I looked through my sights at the tree line and unloaded about 10 more rounds in to it. At this point the incoming fire was getting closer and I could see the dust being kicked up in-front of me.
When incoming rounds are close enough to you they make a distinct whizzing sound and that’s all I could hear. It got to the point where I felt as though my head would be taken off, even if I lifted it just to look through my weapon sights.
I laid there clenching my jaw, with my head in the dirt and waited to be tagged.
“I’m fucked, I need to get to some cover and out of this killing zone”
But I was pinned down, in the open and couldn’t see the rest of my team.
Thankfully, after what seemed like an eternity, the rate of fire started to slow down and as I laid there observing the tree line, I suddenly felt an intense burning at the back of my head. I lifted my hand to feel what it was and as my fingers sunk in to the gaping hole at the back of my neck, so did my stomach.
“Fuck, I’ve got a hole in my head”
I looked at my shoulder, I seen that it was bright red with blood.
Normally I enjoyed the thrill of a contact but this time was different, this time the Taliban had my pants down. I was hurt, pinned down, and this time the fear outweighed the buzz. I was afraid!
“Medic, medic, medic”
I screamed as loud as I could and fired another barrage of rounds in to the tree line. As I did, I heard the thuds of footsteps coming alongside me and a looked to see who it was. He dived on the floor next to me, it was Roocroft and I have never been so happy to see his face.
“I’m hit Roo, the back of my neck”
He checked me it out for me and I asked him how it looked, his response and brutal honesty did little to ease me.
“I ain’t gonna lie out, it’s pretty bad”
He then plugged my wound with his fingers. I fired a few more rounds, expending my magazine and as I was putting a fresh mag on the medic arrived. It was Tweddle and he dived down on the opposite side of me.
“We need to get the fuck out of here and in to some cover, back between those compounds” Roo said.
“Let’s go, we got you Jonah” and they started to pull me up off the ground.
As we ran towards the compounds I couldn’t help thinking about IEDs, the cleared route from the lead man was lost to us and I shouted “be aware if IEDs”, not that it would’ve helped much at the rate we were running. The 80 or so meters we ran towards the compounds were covered at a rapid speed and we would’ve give Usain Bolts a run for his money. As I arrived at the compound I was greeted by our platoon commander
“Corporal Jones, I need you to take control of these mini me gunners and start suppressing the firing points” he said.
He was as unaware I had been injured at this point and all I could say was “sir, I’ve been shot”.
He gave me a look of bewilderment and told me to get in to some cover between the compounds. I moved in between the compounds and noticed we had no rear cover or flank protection, half the multiple were still on the other side of the open ground and the rest were suppressing to he front. I called for a mini me gunner and placed him on the right side of the compound to cover our flank.
“Watch our rear and observe the Wadi, if anything moves then fuck it up”.
It was at this point the pain started to kick in and I a couldn’t turn my head, so I sat down against the compound wall and left the medic tend to my wound.
Tweddle was clearly shook up, as was I, and he had ripped his trousers open when he took cover during the initial contact. I hadn’t noticed until now, but he wasn’t wearing any underwear and his junk was hanging out for the whole of Afghan to see, he didn’t seem fazed by it. As the remainder of the multiple made it over the open ground and back to us he began dressing my wound. As he started treating me all I heard was Boom, Boom, Boom and we both dived in to cover.
“It’s ok, it’s our boys firing mortars from Minden” someone said and we both chuckled.
We were now all back between the compounds and I felt a bit more relaxed knowing we were in a better position to fight, so I sat back down, removed my helmet and took out a cigarette. I tried to light it but my hands were trembling so much that I couldn’t work the stupid lighter, one of the boys lit it for me and I puffed away while Tweddle attempted to treat me. He was struggling and appeared to be in a worse state of shock than I was, he initially tried wrapping the dressing around my neck which resulted in him choking me. I told him to stop, held the FFD in place myself and offered him a cigarette too. We sat there smoking with those not involved in suppressing positions and laughing at his wardrobe malfunction.
As I sat there I looked over at our platoon sergeant, Kelly, and felt instant admiration for him. With all the chaos going on around us, he was cool, calm and collected, controlling the situation whilst sending the contact report over the radio.
Just another day in the office, right!
This was broken by the sound of an excited Gez, he was operating the heavy machine with Aaron.
“I fucking got one” as he dropped an RPG gunner with a burst of 7.62mm.
Shortly after, a warrior came hurtling down the track towards us, it was the Sgt majors casualty evacuation warrior coming to extract me. It pulled up in front of us and the gunner immediately started blasting off its chain gun over our heads, towards the enemy.
“Get the casualty in the back” he yelled from the turret and so I picked my helmet up and jumped in.
In the back waiting for me was our company medic, Emma. She asked me how I was and I said I’m ok, there was little she could do for me in the back of the vehicle and so she waited until we got back to Minden to assess me.
She informed me that I would need surgery and they immediately crashed a Mert (medical emergency response team) helicopter out to come collect me from Minden. It was coming from camp bastion and would take about 30 minutes to arrive, in the meantime the rest of the multiple had extracted from the ambush and were arriving back at Minden.
I laid there on a spinal board waiting for the Mert, as the adrenaline started to wear off the pain was becoming more noticeable and shock was beginning to set in. I began to tremble and my mouth was dry, I gagging for water so Emma wet a rag and doused my lips, this eased my thirst slightly. I then heard the unmistakable shuddering of a Chinooks propellers and was lifted of the ground.
“That’s you Jonah, well done and good luck corporal” the Sgt major said as I was carried on to the back of it.
From here things start to become a bit blurry, I remember being laid down in the back of the helicopter with 4 doctors around me. One was cutting my clothes off, one was sticking an IV in me and one was treating my wound, I don’t know what the other was doing. Then all of a sudden I became heavy, relaxed and didn’t feel pain anymore, I found out later that this was because they had injected me with ketamine. Slightly over the top I thought lol.
I vaguely remember an American surgeon talking to me in the hospital, all I remember hearing is
“You’re a lucky guy corporal, we need to get you straight in to theatre”
I woke up at around 19:00 that evening, in a daze and not knowing what the hell was going on.
Once I had come around properly the nurses informed me that I had woken up shouting, as if I was still in a firefight, but I don’t remember any of that and apparently that’s quite a normal response in the bastion field hospital.
Shortly after, I was told the extent of my injury. There were actually 2 holes in my neck, one entry and one exit. The exit was the largest and it would require further surgery to fix. I was told this second surgery would be carried out in the U.K and I was due to fly home on a medical flight the following night.
I sat there trying to make sense of what had happened, I was still confused from the anaesthesia and couldn’t even remember what had happened. I thought I had been in a vehicle that was struck by an RPG at first and couldn’t even remember the patrol. My thoughts were interrupted by the hospital welfare officer,
“Corporal Jones we are having trouble contacting your next of kin, she’s not at home and we can’t seem to get through on the number that’s provided”
“Shit, it’s my mother sir. She’s on her honeymoon at the moment, in Turkey”
This is the last thing she needs to hear on her honeymoon I thought.
“It’s ok, we can find out what hotel she’s staying in and send someone from the embassy to see her”
“No sir, I’ll message my girlfriend and let her know. She can get in contact with her, I really don’t want men in suits rocking up and saying we need to speak about your son, she’ll only think the worst. I’d rather speak to her myself and let her know I’m ok”
So that’s what i did and about an hour later a phone was brought to me with a very upset mother in the other end.
“I’m fine, I’ll see you in the hospital when you get home. Don’t worry about me and enjoy your holiday” I told her.
The next morning the doctors came to see me, my wound was fairly straight forward. Through and through with minor muscle damage.
“We can perform the second surgery here but there is a higher risk of infection, as you can imaging” he said.
He also said I would also need daily physiotherapist visits to regain full mobility.
“If I stay here for it, how long until I can get back on the ground?”
“You’re looking at about 10 weeks minimum”
I was furious that the Taliban had one up on me and was keen to get back to my platoon in Minden, knowing that if I went home then it was unlikely I would return, so I opted to stay and have the second surgery in bastion.
3 days later I underwent surgery again to repair the muscle damage and seal the wound. I then had to attend physio in bastion and I absolutely hated the place. There was so much bullshit there and with so much time on my hands, I had plenty of time to think of the ambush. It was playing on my mind a lot and I needed to get back up there to face my demons.
I’d hear the stories of the contacts the guys were having up there and felt I missing out. I’d been stuck in bastion for about 8 weeks when I received news that we had lost another guy to an IED in Minden. It was devastating news and only fuelled my need to get back to Musa Qala, I remember the empty feeling as we carried his coffin on to the Hercules and I couldn’t hold back my tears. (RIP Prosser).
That was it, I’m ready to get back there now, but I wasn’t allowed to before my consultation with the Medical Officer and I was itching to get back there. My consultation was 2 weeks away, after I returned from R&R.
I went home on R&R and when I returned to Afghanistan I never went for my consultation. I jumped in the first available helicopter to Musa Qala with the rest of the returning troops.
However, little did I know the true effect that ambush had on me, and what would lay ahead during my remaining time in Musa Qala.
But that’s another story and one which I will no doubt share in the future.
So that’s it, that’s my story of what happened when I was shot. I still think about it every day and I’m sure it’s an experience that will remain in my head for the rest of my life. These days I am able to look on the bright-side.
I’m still here, able to share my story and truly am one of the lucky ones.
For all those I served with in A Company, 2 Royal Welsh at Minden, I hold the utmost respect for and you should all be proud of what you achieved on that tour.
You truly are warriors!
And for all those that paid the ultimate sacrifice and never made it home. Rest in peace brothers.
For your names shall liveth for evermore.
Below are the links to the BDA report from that day and my citation, for anyone who is interested in reading them.
Thanks for reading my story and for those that know me, I hope this answers your questions.
Thanks Alex, for sharing your story. Glad you are still here brother!