When we turned the corner onto Hawlwadig Road heading for the airfield, it seemed that all 1.5 million people were on every rooftop, doorway and window shooting at us. I placed a Ranger on each side of my vehicle to defend us. Sergeant Dominick Pilla, the best machine gunner I’ve ever seen, was sitting behind me shooting at targets on the right side of my Humvee.
As we drove through the hail of enemy bullets and grenades, a Somali gunman pointed his AK-47 at Dominick. Both fired and both were killed at the same moment. Pilla was shot in his forehead and died immediately slumping into Ranger Tim Moynihan’s lap.
Tim began to panic and lose control. He screamed, “Sergeant Struecker, Dominick Pilla has been shot! He’s been hit! He’s killed!” When I look back I saw the entire back of my vehicle painted red with Pilla’s blood.
For a minute I felt panic along with everyone in my Humvee. The only thing I could think to say to Moynihan, “Tim, take Dominick’s place and take out all those targets on the right side. You need to keep us alive.”
We made it back to the airfield and I thought to myself, Thank God I’m alive.