SERGEANT JASON MIKE: SILVER STAR RECIPIENT
His actions saved the lives of three wounded Soldiers and numerous convoy members...
On Saturdays, Larry Mike would awaken his two young boys at zero six-hundred hours. The house had to be cleaned, the laundry folded, the beds changed. Larry Mike, a career Soldier, lived and breathed the Army. Along with his wife, Sergeant Mike was determined to raise his two boys in a disciplined yet loving environment. As a military family, the Mikes criss-crossed the country from post to post, and also spent some time in Germany. Jason Mike and his older brother realized early on the value of a strict military upbringing. Jason remembers:
My Dad would often say to me, I'm a Soldier and a father, and one will always make me better at the other.
"IT WAS THE LIFE I WAS RAISED FOR"
The sight of his Dad going to work every morning in shined boots and a sharply creased uniform made young Jason extremely proud. His parents encouraged their boys to do well academically, and the boys spent as much time as they could playing sports. Jason was a natural athlete and was accustomed to being picked first in backyard ballgames. But in the back of his mind he knew he one day wanted to be a Soldier, like his dad.
"THE RISING STAR"
By the time Jason reached high school the family had settled in Kentucky. Jason was powerfully built, smart and outgoing. He joined Junior ROTC, but football was now his passion. He dreamed of one day playing in the NFL. For Jason, football didnt seem that much different than the Army - just more fun. The same concepts of teamwork, discipline, and chain of command were nothing new to him. He excelled.
I wanted to be the best. I loved the smell of the fresh cut grass, seeing those painted white lines. I hated practice but I loved game day. Game day was what I lived for.
Jason prided himself on being the guy who stayed late after practice, lifting a few more weights, running a few more sprints, because he knew it would pay off on Game Day. As a bruising fullback, Jason broke many rushing records in high school and earned All-District, All-State, and All-American honors. It wasn't long before colleges came calling. He was one step closer to his dream of playing pro football.
"TRADED CLEATS FOR COMBAT BOOTS"
In the spring of his senior year in high school, Jason sorted through his college offers. He chose Jacksonville University, and signed his national letter of intent to play in the football-crazy state of Florida.
On a beautiful fall morning at the beginning of the 2001 season, Jason arrived at class to find it had been cancelled. When he returned to his room, he watched in horror as the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center in New York. Like every American, he was heartbroken, and stunned. The following Saturday, Jacksonville University decided to play football, one of only a handful of collegiate and professional games to be played that first weekend after September 11th. As Jason lined up for the National Anthem with his teammates before the game, a color guard presented the American flag. Jason Mike was overcome with a sense of purpose. He had never been so sure about anything.
Thats when I knew that there was something else for me to do. I let my coaches know that there was a bigger calling for me. So I played the rest of the season and after that I stepped off the team and into a pair of combat boots.
At that time, Jasons brother, Larry Jr., was serving in the Air Force. With a war looming, Jason's mother was understandably worried and urged Jason to stay in school and play football. But his father understood. "Son, if you feel the calling, you need to answer it," he said. "Go. And make the Mike family proud."
Like all new recruits, when Jason joined the Army he could choose from a wide variety of jobs. As a football player, he was the ultimate team player. The fullback was often asked to block for his teammates allowing others to bask in the glory. In the Army, he was looking for the same kind of job: Team player. No spotlight. A dependable asset. Jason decided to become a combat medic.
I wanted to be that guy who made things happen behind the scenes, but still be a vital part of the success of the mission. That's the reason I chose the medics.
"IRAQ WAS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED"
Specialist Jason Mike was soon attached to the Military Police. One MP company is assigned five combat medics. Each MP platoon of nine Soldiers carries one medic. In October of 2004, Specialist Jason Mike was assigned to the 617th Military Police Company in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin as it trained for its deployment to Iraq. Here he joined his new platoon under the leadership of Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein, a seasoned Iraq veteran with a penchant for constant training. To the half-Korean, half-African American Jason Mike, the platoon seemed a welcome representation of Americas Army. The diverse team included two females, four Caucasians, one Latino and another Soldier of Korean-Puerto Rican descent. The bond was instant, and permanent.
For us all to come together and bond as one team like that, and to try and accomplish one task and complete one mission, was just a great feeling.
After a brief stay in Kuwait, Mikes unit pushed into Iraq on November 27, 2004 where the Soldiers immediately became responsible for keeping Main and Alternate Supply Routes cleared of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), Small Arms fire, and RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades).
But those first few months in Iraq were strangely quiet and surreal for Specialist Jason Mike. He expected desert heat, but it was cool. He expected flying bullets and exploding RPGs, but it was relatively quiet. Staff Sergeant Nein continued to train and prepare his platoon relentlessly. They studied every inch of their assigned area and planned for any eventuality. Each member of the platoon was trained on weapons systems, map reconnaissance and local routes. They studied the insurgents trends in convoy ambushes. What side did they usually attack from? From which side did they usually escape? Each member of the platoon understood his or her own job and their fellow Soldiers jobs as well.
THE PALM SUNDAY AMBUSH
For the Soldiers of the 617th Military Police company, all their preparation and planning would come together on March 20, 2005. It was Palm Sunday. Just before noon, a large group of heavily armed anti-Iraqi forces launched a complex ambush against two huge supply convoys as they converged 20 miles south of Baghdad. Sergeant Nein's squad of three HMMWVs, operating under the call sign of Raven 42, had been patrolling the route that morning when they happened upon the southbound convoy. They slipped in behind it, a maneuver known as shadowing. The MPs would keep their distance from the rear, ready for anything. Specialist Jason Mike, along with three other MPs, was in the rear vehicle.
THEYRE GETTING HIT!! GO! GO! GO!
As soon as the attack began, one of the lead tractor-trailers in the southbound convoy was disabled. The other drivers stopped their trucks and got out of their cabs, desperate for cover from the instant and massive bursts of fire. More than fifty loaded supply vehicles and their personnel were vulnerable to enemy attack. Black smoke began rising into the clear blue sky. Jason Mike remembers the moment.
I could hear my gunner yelling out to my TC that the convoy ahead was being hit.
The squad sped down to the stalled convoy and positioned themselves between the convoy and the insurgents. The patrol immediately began taking heavy fire. Gunners on the three HMMWVs opened up on the enemy positions with their crew-mounted weapons. The massive sound of battle reverberated through the countryside.
RAVEN 42 HAD TRAINED FOR THIS MOMENT
Just two days earlier, Nein's squad had performed a reconnaissance mission at the very spot at which they were now engaging the enemy. An access road intersected the highway from the west and on both sides of the access road were ideal areas for concealment: trees in an orchard, irrigation trenches, earthen berms as high as 10 feet in places, dry canals, several outbuildings. The location had been identified by the team as a likely choice for an enemy ambush. When Nein's squad had run through rehearsals at the site, they had assumed that 12 to 15 insurgents would participate in an ambush here--standard enemy operating procedure for ambushes in the previous month.
THIS FIGHT WILL BE OVER IN TEN MINUTES
The gunner, in the turret atop Mikes vehicle, was firing away on his .50 caliber machine gun as the HMMWV made a hard right turn down the access road. The sound was deafening.
In my head I'm guessing that there are only ten or fifteen guys out there. This fight will be over in ten minutes. No big deal.
But as the HMMWVs of Raven 42 sped down the familiar road in an attempt to outflank the enemy and block their escape route, they had no idea that they were driving into the middle of a large force of 45 to 50 well-armed insurgents.
"I LOOKED OUT AT THE ORCHARD AND THERE WERE ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE GUYS LOOKING BACK!"
Specialist Mike felt the familiar rush of adrenaline. It was Game Day all over again. A hail of bullets and multiple RPG rounds slammed into Nein's lead vehicle. As Nein's vehicle rolled to a stop 200 meters ahead of Mikes, the tires had been flattened and oil was spraying out of the engine block. Enemy fire was coming from both sides of the road. There were seven civilian vehicles parked along the road with open doors and trunks, readied for a quick getaway. Three of the four Soldiers in Mikes vehicle dismounted as the gunner continued firing from his turret. Jason Mike, drawing his M9 pistol, was looking for targets.
I looked around, trying to acquire as many targets as I could. I counted about 25 guys that were peering back at me. Rounds were blazing right towards me and I heard an RPG round hiss past. At that point I realized we were in a bigger fight. And the only thing I could think was, lets get them before they get us.
The .50 cal gunner kept up his fire, as did the gunners on the two lead HMMWVs. Specialist Mike called to his driver for his M4 rifle. Rounds were pinging off the HMMWV as the MPs returned fire. It was now clear to Nein and his Soldiers just how fortified the insurgents were in their trenches and canals. Nein recalls:
They were hiding behind trees, behind the berms. Some were in the canals. They had the upper hand and they were wreaking havoc on the convoy. We were going to fight them.
With the M4 rifle, Specialist Mike began eliminating targets. Bullets snapped past him and ricocheted around his feet. Suddenly, one of his teammates called out that he was hit. Mike crawled to the mans side, dragging his medics pack with him. Mike quickly bandaged the wound and pulled him into the relative safety of the vehicle. Mike could see the enemy advancing toward his position as they crawled into the irrigation ditches around the stopped HMMWVs. Just as he turned his M4 back on the enemy, another Soldier yelled that he had been hit. Bullets were flying. The insurgents were zeroing in on Mikes men.
Now were taking heavy, heavy rounds from our rear and our front. So I dragged him under the vehicle to get him out of the line of fire and began to carefully take down more targets, making sure that I was hitting guys on my left and right.
And then the big gun that was firing atop the HMMWV was silenced. The gunner called down to his medic, I
m hit! Mike yelled up to see if he could still maintain the gun, and the gunner replied that he could. Mike could see insurgents moving up out of the trenches. He tossed a bandage up to his gunner. Specialist Jason Mike suddenly felt alone, and he sensed that his MP squad could be overrun. Bullets whizzed past his ears and pinged off the vehicle, but he was determined. It was fourth and goal with time running out. He grabbed the M249 light machine gun in his left hand and propped it on the back of the vehicle. He raised his M4 rifle in his other hand.
Staff Sergeant Nein remembers looking back through the smoke and dust and seeing his medic standing tall in the din of battle, a fallen comrade at his feet, methodically firing in both directions, eliminating target after target.
It was a Rambo scene. He had a weapon in each hand and hes looking back and forth. I can remember it to this day. H'es not just spraying the enemy. He's looking back and forth and taking shots that counted.
Soon, the big gun on top was back in the fight. Nein and another Soldier had gone into the trenches to eliminate the threat there. Specialist Mike yelled over to the squad in the second vehicle for someone to help stabilize his wounded men. Another Soldier ran over and began lifesaving techniques on the wounded. Mike soon noticed bullets ricocheting around where the Soldier was crouched, giving first aid. Mike turned to see muzzle flashes coming from a farmhouse in the orchard. He reached inside the vehicle and grabbed an AT4 anti-tank rocket and quickly drew a bead. He fired one round at the house, silencing the snipers gun. Later, Specialist Mike would realize that he had instinctively relied on his training.
The training instinct just kicks in. That was the first time Id ever shot a real AT4. Just two weeks prior to that SSG Nein had gone through all the weapon systems with me and taught me each one. That small bit of training that he gave me definitely paid off that day.
Soon, Sergeants Nein came along the trench-line and called for a ceasefire. The Palm Sunday ambush was over. The trenches and dry canals surrounding the access road were littered with the bodies of insurgents, many of them carrying handcuffs--a grim reminder of what might have been. Twenty-six insurgents were killed, seven wounded and one captured unharmed. More than 30 automatic weapons, multiple RPG tubes and rockets, 40 hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition were gathered from the area.
TEAMWORK AND DISCIPLINE
For the squad of Raven 42, teamwork, discipline and bravery under intense fire was but a part of the reason Specialist Mikes team survived that day. Studious preparation and constant planning were critical to the teams success at thwarting a large and well-planned enemy attack. Even after the gunfire stopped, Specialist Mikes job was far from over. As the squad medic, he treated each of his wounded comrades until they were medevaced out of the area. All three men recovered from their wounds. For Specialist Jason Mike, he still looks at the success of Raven 42 that day in the context of a football game.
It just shows that it was one team, one fight, one mission, and one success. And that's how we defeated the enemy that day. One guy cant win a football game and one guy cant win a battle.
For his heroic actions in battle that day, Specialist Jason Mike was awarded the Silver Star. Today, he lives in Frankfort, Kentucky and is married to a former combat medic and Iraq war veteran. He's now in training to become a Flight Medic aboard Medevac choppers. He looks back on his experience that day in a way that is humble and honest.
I didn't go to Iraq to receive medals. I didn't go to be a hero. I went to do my job and do my part for my country in a time of need. I did it for the buddy on my right, and for the buddy on my left. And I did it to make the Mike family proud.
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