From 2003-07 Harlan County native Michael Card was in Fallujah, Iraq and Syria. He wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer with a meal here in the United States, but that was the last thing on his mind in those days — he was more worried about IEDs, mortars, RPGs and snipers.
“It was by the grace of God alone that I wasn’t hurt or killed over there,” Card explained. “I’ve had mortars land a few feet from where I was standing and not explode. I’ve had RPG rounds explode a few feet away and walk away without a scratch.”
Card served with the United States Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Second Battalion, First Marine Division. He was in Golf Company with a Force Recon attachment. According to Card, “we were doing a lot of special operations.”
The military has said Fallujah was the bloodiest urban combat since 1969 in Vietnam. Card said the IEDs were a big thing for the insurgents in 2003-04 in Fallujah. He said the enemy would hang “chicken wire” from overpasses in the attempt to behead the turret gunner riding in military vehicles. He was the turret gunner for his transport. He said he rarely goes under an underpass here in the U.S. and not think about it.
“If I go in an underpass in one lane, I always come out in another lane. They (insurgents) would toss grenades or other ordinance off an underpass when they saw American vehicles travel beneath them,” he said. “I can probably tell you what everyone in this Dairy Queen is holding in their hands right now. You bring some of those things home with you. Things like that become second nature when you’re in a war, so when you come home you keep doing some of them.”
Card went on to explain some of the things insurgents would do to try and kill American servicemen. He said they’d put bombs in pop cans, or kill dogs and put bombs inside the carcasses. He was in Fallujah with Chris Kyle, the inspiration for the movie “American Sniper.” He never met Kyle, but Kyle had been his “overwatch” on missions. Overwatch is what military say when they have a sniper watching their movements on the ground.
Card said his unit was the one that recovered the bodies of the Blackwater USA security team that was ambushed and executed in 2003. The first Battle of Fallujah was in response to the ambush.
Card said after Fallujah he came home for a while before being sent to the Syrian border to man a checkpoint. During his time at the checkpoint his unit captured five of the wanted terrorists on President George W. Bush’s deck of cards.
He told one story that showed his own “shock and awe” of the American military. He said his unit was responding to an ambush on a farm in Iraq. The farm was irrigated, so the grass was high everywhere and the unit began taking fire from the tree line. His unit couldn’t determine where the fire was coming from, so they called in an air strike on the area. He explained his “awe” when the American jets nosedived from the clouds and hovered about a hundred meters from the tree line while they devastated the entire tree line. He said no more fire came from the tree line after the display.
Card’s military service is over now. He is married with three small children and living in Harlan. He works in the coal mines in Letcher County. By his definition, he lives a pretty ordinary life now. He said he still doesn’t know if he’ll be able to travel under an overpass without switching lanes, and large groups of people still make him anxious, but when asked if he’d do it all over again – he said, “In a heartbeat.”
Reach Bradley at 606-909-4146 or on Twitter @bradley_HDE