Thursday, March 1, 2007

Courage Under Fire

Major Edward Eversman

“I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
Warrior Ethos

I have been fortunate to serve with some of America’s greatest citizens – soldiers who have volunteered to serve on the front lines in the war on terror. One of these is a U.S. Marshal who trained my protective service detail – the C.O.B.R.A. Team – before we deployed to Iraq to protect Brigadier General (now Major General) Charles “Sandy” Davidson.

Major Edward Eversman is a true warrior-citizen. In Chapter 8 of my in-progress book, I tell about a life-or-death incident that was resolved primarily because of Eversman’s leadership. The chapter is called “To Face the Elephant”. Here is the excerpt about the major:

“When I first met Major Edward Eversman, it was clear he was used to being in charge. A large, well-built man standing well over six feet, he was obviously a powerful figure as a lawman. If he was the U.S. Marshal at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the Clanton gang would probably have run away without firing a shot. Even so, his personality was outgoing, gregarious and he was the kind of guy you’d like to share a few beers with in a sports bar.

As we prepared to leave Pensacola from the headquarters of the 350th, I sat on the bus and watched Eversman as he said goodbye to his wife and young children. When he parted with them, he was clearly upset and, without shame, held back tears as he sat down near me. He saw them wave goodbye to him and the unspoken words were “Will we ever see each other again?” There is no way to explain to the uninitiated what it is like to be a warrior who marches into battle while your loved ones wait in fear at home.

Major Ed Eversman was born with Army green flowing through his veins. He entered the world as a military brat at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and spent much of his youth moving from one place to the other. After graduating from the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Eversman continued to live in that city and he now considered it his hometown. As a dedicated criminal investigator and Deputy U.S. Marshal for the United States Marshal’s Service, Ed Eversman was one tough cop. On April 1st, 2004, his coolness under fire made all the difference during a life-or-death encounter with Iraqi insurgents.

While he was still back in the States, the major clearly embraced his opportunity to create a protective service detail for General Davidson. When the 350th anointed him with that task, as well as the leadership of the PSD, he was excited about the mission and he became absorbed with the challenge of making it work.

With only a short time before deployment, he “cut to the chase” at Camp Shelby and Fort Bragg and created the necessary training to bring the PSD as close as possible to his standards. He knew he wasn’t working with recruits and the experience of the law enforcement officers and combat veterans on the team would be an asset. This made his job easier because the tasks and the training were rapidly absorbed by the new team.

When the team was decimated in Kuwait, there was no one more upset than Major Eversman. The job he was trained to do, the team he created and the mission he mentally prepared himself for were all torn apart. He was a professional and he would adapt to his new job in Iraq, but there was no doubt that being taken away from the team was painful for him. All of us missed the big guy as well.

Although his tenure as the leader of the C.O.B.R.A. Team ended, Major Eversman became intent on doing the best job he could as an advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. As part of that job, he needed to present a briefing on the Iraqi Facilities Protection Service (FPS) to the Polish officers in charge of Camp Alpha in Babylon. At some point the FPS would take over the security for that legendary city.

Going along as an observer was Colonel Charles Lykes of the 350th CACOM. Because he was “only” a major, Eversman didn’t have enough rank to demand helicopter transportation on short notice, so he would lead a vehicle convoy to Babylon. After Lieutenant Cooper turned him down when he requested that the C.O.B.R.A. Team join him on the mission as extra security, the major looked to others at the Ministry of the Interior for a little extra manpower and firepower.

Marine Lieutenant Colonel Rich Diddams was Major Eversman’s boss at the Ministry and he would be armed with an AK47. Geoff Howard, another Ministry advisor, and Navy Lieutenant Jim Gilson also went along; Howard was armed with an AK47 and Gilson carried Eversman’s British Sten gun. Rounding out the ad hoc security team were Brendan Lund, a finance specialist at the Ministry who was armed with a Beretta 380 handgun and Jim Vickery, the Director of the FPS, who had a Glock 9mm handgun. Eversman carried his own Beretta 9mm handgun and Colonel Lykes used his issued M16.

At this time small convoys were authorized to move in NTVs. This group made the two-hour trip south from Baghdad to Babylon in two unarmored Suburbans. On the way down, the lead vehicle was driven by Vickery, with Diddams as the front seat passenger, Lykes as the driver’s side rear passenger and Lund in the passenger side rear seat. Eversman’s Suburban was the trail vehicle on the first leg of the convoy with Howard in the front passenger seat and Gilson in the driver’s side rear seat.

The briefing in Babylon was completed by 1400 and the soldiers began their journey back to the Green Zone. This time Vickery and his passengers were in the trail vehicle and Major Eversman was in the lead. About an hour and a half into the trip, the two vehicles started to take enemy fire. Eversman looked out the window to his left and saw sparks as incoming bullets ricocheted off the pavement next to him. When he looked to the right, he saw rounds striking the dirt in the ditch on the side of the road.

Yelling “Ambush!”, Eversman believed they were in the middle of a roadside ambush. Taking immediate evasive action, he accelerated his own vehicle to get out of the kill zone. Then he looked in his side mirror and realized they were taking fire at the rear of the small convoy from a beat-up, white four-door Datsun or Nissan occupied by four masked insurgents. While one of the bad guys drove, the other three were hanging out of the windows firing AK47s at the Americans.

Eversman could see that the insurgent vehicle was right on the bumper of the Suburban driven by Vickery and containing passengers Diddams, Lund and Lykes. As rear-seat passengers, Lund and Lykes were in the most imminent danger of being killed. Vickery was doing his best to perform evasive maneuvers and his NTV was weaving all over the road to get away. Lieutenant Colonel Diddams leaned out of his window and returned fire with his own AK47.

Eversman’s passengers also tried to shoot at the insurgents, but the trail vehicle was in their line of fire and they couldn’t get a clear shot. Slowing down, the major waved Vickery forward into the lead position and used his own NTV to prevent the insurgent fire from striking Vickery’s vehicle. From Eversman’s Suburban, Howard and Gilson began to effectively return fire and one of the insurgents was hit. The now-dead bad guy fell from the enemy car at some ninety miles per hour and his body bounced along the highway like a rubber doll. Eversman continued to use his vehicle as a barrier between the insurgents and the other Suburban, but then Vickery lost control of his NTV in the soft sand on the side of the road and his vehicle started to spin out.

Eversman, the tactically-trained driver, took his Suburban into a power slide which ended with a high speed stop and a 180 degree turn. He saw the Vickery NTV strike a hill and vault into the air, landing upright in a ditch. Refusing to leave his comrades behind, Eversman drove up behind the now-stationary Suburban and started firing at the slowly approaching insurgent car with his handgun. Then Vickery got his vehicle moving and the two NTVs returned to the road and headed north again. This time the bad guys didn’t follow.

After driving a couple of miles down the highway, the soldiers reached an American convoy parked on the side of the road. The men stopped and surveyed the damage. Amazingly, no one was wounded, but there were numerous bullet holes in the tail end of Vickery’s NTV. One round punctured the gas tank and gasoline was slowly leaking out. The group decided to continue on to the Green Zone, but they would squeeze themselves into Eversman’s Suburban if the other vehicle ran out of gas.

When they were safely inside the Green Zone, the men suddenly realized their adrenaline was still pumping. They were amazed they survived a deadly ambush by insurgents who used the same techniques we were all told to expect. The guerrillas hoped to attack the convoy from the rear, ignite the gas tank of one of the NTVs and then kill the occupants when they escaped the burning vehicle. It just didn’t work this time.

After the nervous laughter and back-slapping was over, the soldiers did their own after-action review. When the firing started, Colonel Lykes tried to return fire, but he couldn’t get his seatbelt loose to turn around. Brendan Lund, sitting next to Lykes, started to return fire, but the twisting and turning of the swerving vehicle caused his weapon to slip out of his hands and fall onto the roadway. Lykes and Lund ended up ducking down in the back seat for cover. The Americans had stacked their backpacks and other equipment in the back of Vickery’s NTV, so their gear took the lion’s share of the insurgent bullets.

The following day Major Eversman received a report from the American unit that investigated the ambush. Other than the insurgent who fell dead onto the highway, two of the other attackers showed up at a local hospital in the shot-up white car and both later died of their wounds. Final score: Good guys 3, insurgents 0.

When it was all over, Major Eversman was straightforward about some of the tactical aspects of the convoy he might have handled differently. Although he completed his assigned mission, the biggest change would have been to make the trip as a part of a better-armed, larger convoy. Although it ultimately cost most of the bad guys their lives, the four insurgents elected to attack the two un-armored NTVs because they perceived them to be “soft” targets.

When I spoke to Colonel Lykes about this incident, he was adamant that the expert tactical driving by Eversman saved his life. The major, as one might anticipate, downplayed his own role and said he just did what needed to be done. Lieutenant Colonel Diddams and Colonel Lykes wrote a recommendation that Major Eversman receive a Bronze Star for valor. For some reason, that award never made it through the system.

Although Eversman laughed about not getting the award, he took charge in a deadly ambush and using his training, experience and courage, he brought everyone home.

It is said that the mercenaries in Africa in the 1960s told a story about great white hunters. Supposedly a hunter could never be referred to as a “great white hunter” until he faced a charging bull elephant and survived. Because the mercenaries couldn’t respect another soldier until he faced the ultimate test of mortal combat, it became part of their ritual of acceptance to ask whether or not a soldier ever “faced the elephant” of death.

Surely, Major Eversman and the men on his convoy “faced the elephant” on this particular day and with the courage and fierce determination of warriors they decisively defeated the enemy in one bloody battle in the relentless war on terror.”

SFC Chuck Grist

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