Editor's note: Anthony Paraspolo originally wrote this piece for his college composition class.
It was an unusually cool afternoon in the Iraqi desert. Our Convoy Commander had just got back from the mission brief and had informed our team of our mission. This particular "road trip" just so happened to be a prisoner relocation mission. Possibly one of the most dangerous missions this team -- my team -- has ever done.
The sun began to set as the last detainees were loaded onto the Armadillo, a heavily up-armored school bus. The roar of 36 diesel motors filled the evening air. As we made our way out of the rear gate, our Convoy Commander took his headset off and put it on his stereo so that the whole convoy to hear the song "Bodies" by rock band Drowning Pool just to pump us up and get the adrenaline flowing a little more. "Here we go boys," came across the radio as the convoy picks up speed and adjusts to the proper following distances.
Midnight on those desert highways was like looking at a black sheet with pin holes poked in it, backlit with about a million tiny LED lights. Out of nowhere, the sky lit up with a magnificent orange, yellow, red glow and an ear-shattering boom. "Vic 2 down, Vic 2 is down," came over the radio. The second Humvee, the truck right in front of the first bus, hit a roadside bomb.
On either side of the road were sand dunes standing roughly 10-12 feet tall. Swarms of men started charging us from both sides, wielding everything from pistols to assault rifles, grenades to flame throwers, and they were all being used against us.
Sitting atop my truck, in my turret, I started to open fire. Ten minutes went by, then 20 ... then, after 35 minutes, silence. It was finally over. Bodies, vehicles and spent ammunition riddled the section of highway. The adrenaline had also worn off by that point, and I could no longer stand on my left leg. I collapsed into my truck to find that a round had penetrated the armor and gone straight through my knee. As I waited for the medics to arrive, I start blacking out.
The next day I woke up in a hospital bed with all the guys from my truck, my brothers, standing around me. The only thing that could come to my mind was, "Who's taking a bullet for me next time?" They all burst out in laughter as my Convoy Commander came over and said, "There will be no next time. This is your last trip, Polo."
We went back to talking and I was told we only lost the two trucks and we completed the mission successfully.
Later that week, I was flown to a hospital in Germany to further my recovery, then back to Mississippi six months later to start training more troops for future missions.
But, that was my last trip.
Anthony Paraspolo, originally from Newfane, served in the U.S. Navy from 2003 to 2009. He now lives in Laconia, N.H.