It was the morning of April 22, 2007. I woke up happier than a child on Christmas morning. We only had 13 days left in Ramadi, Iraq. Thirteen days left of the most difficult seven months in my 19 years of life. Soon after breakfast that morning at Camp Ramadi, my life would change forever.

Our deployment was so close to being over that we were now in the “left seat, right seat” part of the deployment. That means that we were handing over our base to the battalion that was replacing us for the next seven months. Half of us from Second Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment were now on Camp Ramadi. The other half was still at Joint Security Station Nasser in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq. They would be returning to Camp Ramadi on the 23rd. We were so happy to have the rest of our brothers with us again. The deployment was so close to being over that we were all talking about the first things we were going to do as soon as we landed back in the United States. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2007 Ramadi was known as the deadliest place on Earth. This was a new territory for the Marines. Only two units had been there before us. In the early months of 2008, it was a completely different place, and we were ready to hand some territory over to the Iraqi forces. Ramadi was unusually quiet the last few months of deployment, until the morning of April 22nd.

Corporal Jonathan Yale was showing the ropes to Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. After they received their mission brief at 0600 from the Sergeant of the Guard, they walked out to assume their post at the entrance gate of JSS Nasser. Their mission was to let no unauthorized vehicles or humans enter the post. An hour and a half after they took their position, they saw a blue water truck turn into the serpentine of concrete barriers to slow vehicles down. The truck was accelerating after every turn, the engine roaring as it made its way through the entry control point. Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter began firing their weapons at the truck as soon as they recognized it as a threat. The rounds were penetrating through the windshield, throwing shards of glass to the ground. Even as the Iraqi soldiers and police officers ran right past them away from the danger, they stood their ground, emptying their weapons as death stared them in the face. They were not going to let anything harm their brothers sleeping inside the makeshift barracks behind them. As the truck rolled to a stop, right in front of the Marines, it detonated, instantly killing Yale and Haerter.

The two Marines showed what the true definition of courage is. As others ran away from death, they stood their ground and stared death right in the eyes. No one knows exactly what was going through their minds in the six seconds it took from when the truck entered the entry control point until it detonated. What I do know is that they did not think of running and hiding. An Iraqi soldier was interviewed the day after the explosion, and with tears in his eyes he described the courage of Yale and Haerter as they stood their ground. He said to the General, “Sir, in the name of God, no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”

It is clear that these two men were not ordinary by any means. They could have run away and possibly lived. But that is not what goes through the mind of an American hero. I am forever indebted to the sacrifice that these two men made on that day.

The trip back to America was nowhere near as joyful as I had hoped it to be as I sat on a plane with one more seat left for an Angel.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

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