The soldiers with LTC Kurilla were searching
fast, weapons at the ready, and they quickly flex-cuffed
two men. But these were not the right guys. Meanwhile,
SSG Konkol's men were clearing toward us, leaving the
three bad guys boxed, but free.
Shots were fired behind us but around a corner to the
Both the young 2nd lieutenant and the young specialist
were inside a shop when a close-quarters firefight broke
out, and they ran outside. Not knowing how many men they
were fighting, they wanted backup. LTC Kurilla began
running in the direction of the shooting. He passed by
me and I chased, Kurilla leading the way.
There was a quick and heavy volume of fire. And then LTC
Kurilla was shot.
LTC Erik Kurilla (front right), the moment the bullets
strike.(2nd LT front-left; radioman near-left; "AH" the
interpreter is near-right.)
Three bullets reach flesh: One snaps his thigh bone in
Both legs and an arm are shot.
The Commander rolls into a firing position, just as a
bullet strikes the wall beside 2nd lieutenant's head
Kurilla was running when he was shot, but he didn't seem
to miss a stride; he did a crazy judo roll and came up
BamBamBamBam! Bullets were hitting all around Kurilla.
The young 2nd lieutenant and specialist were the only
two soldiers near. Neither had real combat experience.
AH had no weapon. I had a camera.
Kurilla, though down and unable to move, was fighting
and firing, yelling at the two young soldiers to get in
there; but they hesitated. BamBamBamBam!
Kurilla was in the open, but his judo roll had left him
slightly to the side of the shop. I screamed to the
young soldiers, "Throw a grenade in there!" but they
were not attacking.
"Throw a grenade in there!" They did not attack.
"Give me a grenade!" They didn't have grenades.
"Erik! Do you need me to come get you!" I shouted. But
he said "No." (Thank God; running in front of the shop
might have proved fatal.)
"What's wrong with you!?" I yelled above the shooting.
"I'm hit three times! I'm shot three times!"
Amazingly, he was right. One bullet smashed through his
femur, snapping his leg. His other leg was hit and so
was an arm.
With his leg mangled, Kurilla pointed and fired his
rifle into the doorway, yelling instructions to the
soldiers about how to get in there. But they were not
attacking. This was not the Deuce Four I know. The other
Deuce Four soldiers would have killed every man in that
room in about five seconds. But these two soldiers
didn't have the combat experience to grasp the power of
This was happening in seconds. Several times I nearly
ran over to Kurilla, but hesitated every time. Kurilla
was, after all, still fighting. And I was afraid to run
in front of the shop, especially so unarmed.
The Commander fights...
...and fights, as more bullets kick up dust. And then
help arrived in the form of one man: CSM Prosser.
Prosser ran around the corner, passed the two young
soldiers who were crouched low, then by me and right to
the shop, where he started firing at men inside.
A man came forward, trying to shoot Kurilla with a
pistol, apparently realizing his only escape was by
fighting his way out, or dying in the process. Kurilla
was aiming at the doorway waiting for him to come out.
Had Prosser not come at that precise moment, who knows
what the outcome might have been?
Prosser shot the man at least four times with his M4
rifle. But the American M4 rifles are weak - after
Prosser landed three nearly point blank shots in the
man's abdomen, splattering a testicle with a fourth, the
man just staggered back, regrouped and tried to shoot
CSM Robert Prosser goes "black."
Then Prosser's M4 went "black" (no more bullets). A
shooter inside was also having problems with his pistol,
but there was no time to reload. Prosser threw down his
empty M4, ran into the shop and tackled the man.
Though I have the photo, I do not remember the moment
that Prosser went "black" and ran into the shop.
Apparently I turned my head, but kept my finger on the
shutter button. When I looked back again, I saw the very
bloody leg of CSM Prosser inside the shop. It was not
moving. He appeared to be shot down and dead.
I looked back at the two soldiers who were with me
outside, and screamed what amounted to "Attack! Attack!
Attack!" I stood up and was yelling at them. Actually,
what I shouted was an unprintable string of curses,
while Kurilla was also yelling at them to get in there,
his M4 trained on the entrance. But the guys were not
When the bullet hit that canister, Prosser—who I thought
might be dead because of all the blood on his leg—was
actually fighting hand-to-hand on the ground. Wrapped in
a ground fight, Prosser could not pull out his service
pistol strapped on his right leg, or get to his knife on
his left, because the terrorist—who turned out to be a
serious terrorist—had grabbed Prosser's helmet and
pulled it over his eyes and twisted it.
Prosser had beaten the terrorist in the head three times
with his fist and was gripping his throat, choking him.
But Prosser's gloves were slippery with blood so he
couldn't hold on well. At the same time, the terrorist
was trying to bite Prosser's wrist, but instead he bit
onto the face of Prosser's watch. (Prosser wears his
watch with the face turned inward.) The terrorist had a
mouthful of watch but he somehow also managed to punch
Prosser in the face. When I shot the propane canister,
Prosser had nearly strangled the guy, but my shots made
Prosser think bad guys were coming, so he released the
terrorist's throat and snatched out the pistol from his
holster, just as SSG Konkol, Lewis, Devereaux and Muse
swarmed the shop. But the shots and the propane fiasco
also had brought the terrorist back to life, so Prosser
quickly reholstered his pistol and subdued him by
smashing his face into the concrete.
The combat drama was ended, so I started snapping photos
CSM Prosser, his leg drenched in the terrorist's blood,
as 2nd Platoon Alpha Company arrives
CSM Prosser drags the terrorist into the alley ...
...into the light.
The propane canister at rest (left), the terrorist in
view of the Commander
CSM Prosser flex cuffs Khalid Jasim Nohe
Prosser stands above the crocodile who bit his watch.
SFC Bowman shields the eyes of his Commander.
When Recon platoon showed up about a minute later, SFC
Bowman asked LTC Kurilla to lie down. But Kurilla was
ordering people to put out security, and directing
action this way and that. When the very experienced
medic, Specialist Munoz, put morphine into Kurilla, the
commander still kept giving orders, even telling Munoz
how to do his job. So SFC Bowman told Munoz to give
Kurilla another morphine, and finally Kurilla settled
down, and stopped giving orders long enough for them to
haul him and the terrorist away to the Combat Support
Hospital. The same facility where Daniel Lama was
recovering from the earlier gunshot wound to the neck.
Combat Support Hospital
The Surge operation continued as we returned to base.
The Commander and the terrorist were both being prepped
for surgery, when LTC Kurilla said, "Tell Major Bieger
to call my wife so she doesn't get a call from the Army
first." But someone gave the Commander a cell phone, and
I heard Kurilla talking to his wife, Mary Paige, saying
something like, "Honey, there has been a little shooting
here. I got hit and there was some minor soft tissue
damage." The X-ray on the board nearby showed his femur
snapped in half. "I'll be fine. It’s just some minor
stuff." That poor woman.
The doctors rolled LTC Kurilla and the terrorist into OR
and our surgeons operated on both at the same time. The
terrorist turned out to be one Khalid Jasim Nohe, who
had first been captured by US forces (2-8 FA) on 21
December, the same day a large bomb exploded in the
dining facility on this base and killed 22 people.
That December day, Khalid Jasim Nohe and two compatriots
tried to evade US soldiers from 2-8 FA, but the soldiers
managed to stop the fleeing car. Then one of the
suspects tried to wrestle a weapon from a soldier before
all three were detained. They were armed with a sniper
rifle, an AK, pistols, a silencer, explosives and other
weapons, and had in their possession photographs of US
bases, including a map of this base.
That was in December.
About two weeks ago, word came that Nohe's case had been
dismissed by a judge on 7 August. The Coalition was
livid. According to American officers, solid cases are
continually dismissed without apparent cause. Whatever
the reason, the result was that less than two weeks
after his release from Abu Ghraib, Nohe was back in
Mosul shooting at American soldiers.
LTC Kurilla repeatedly told me of - and I repeatedly
wrote about - terrorists who get released only to cause
more trouble. Kurilla talked about it almost daily.
Apparently, the vigor of his protests had made him an
opponent of some in the Army's Detention Facilities
chain of command, but had otherwise not changed the
policy. And now Kurilla lay shot and in surgery in the
same operating room with one of the
catch-and-release-terrorists he and other soldiers had
been warning everyone about.
When Kurilla woke in recovery a few hours after surgery,
he called CSM Prosser and asked for a Bible and the
book: Gates of Fire. Kurilla gives a copy of Gates of
Fire to every new officer and orders them to read it. He
had given me a copy and told me to read it. In my book,
there is a marked passage, which I thought rather
flowery. But I have it beside me on the table by the map
"I would be the one. The one to go back and speak. A
pain beyond all previous now seized me. Sweet life
itself, even the desperately sought chance to tell the
tale, suddenly seemed unendurable alongside the pain of
having to take leave of these whom I had come so to
A short time after Kurilla gave me the book, following
the death of one of his soldiers, he said to me, "I want
you to write about my men. You are the only one who
might understand," the passage registered in my mind.
I asked CSM Prosser if I could go with him to see the
Commander. Carrying both books, we drove to the Cash.
Major Mark Bieger arrived alongside Kurilla's hospital
bed, paying respect. After spending some time with the
Commander, CSM Prosser and I drove back to the unit.
The Deuce Four
The truest test of leadership happens when the Commander
is no longer there. Kurilla's men were taking down and
boxing up his photos of his wife and children, and his
Minnesota Vikings flag, when they decided to keep the
flag so everyone could autograph it. It wasn't long
before there was no room left to sign, but I found a
place to scratch. I wanted my name on that flag.
The place suddenly felt hollowed-out.
The next day, Iraqi Army and Police commanders were in a
fury that LTC Kurilla had been shot. Some blamed his
men, while others blamed the terrorists, although blame
alone could not compete with disbelief. Kurilla had gone
on missions every single day for almost a year. Talking
with people downtown. Interfacing with shop owners.
Conferencing with doctors. Drinking tea with Iraqi
citizens in their homes. Meeting proud mothers with new
babies. It's important to interact and take the pulse of
a city in a war where there is no "behind the lines," no
safe areas. It's even dangerous on the bases here.
In order for leaders of Kurilla's rank to know the pulse
of the Iraqi people, they must make direct contact.
There's a risk in that. But it's men like Kurilla who
can make this work. Even and especially in places like
Mosul, where it takes a special penchant for fighting. A
passion for the cause of freedom. A true and abiding
understanding of both its value and its costs. An
unwavering conviction that, in the end, we will win.
Make no mistake about Kurilla - he's a warrior, always
at the front of the charge. But it's that
battle-hardened bravery that makes him the kind of
leader that Americans admire and Iraqis respect. Like
the soldiers of Deuce Four, Iraqis have seen too much
war to believe in fairy tales. They know true warriors