Over the weekend I received an email from a friend who is sharing the story of two ECU alumni that crossed paths on the battlefield in Iraq in a most unusual manner. When out on their mission, the two soldiers chanted what most would hear on a game day at Dowdy Ficklen, not on the battlefield in Iraq. Below is the email from Sgt. Dan Blalock and Sgt. Daniel Thomas.
No shit!!! There I was…in the middle of a combat zone. The date time group is 271100MAY09 (May 27, 2009; 11:00 AM) in Iraq. The temperature has already surpassed the century mark with only more heat to come as the day drags by. My battle buddy and I are on a dismounted patrol. A recon of sorts. We have a clearly defined mission. Failure is not an option.
Our survival hinged on success. We would not rest until we found the best chow on all of FOB Falcon. SGT Thomas is on point. I take up rear security. Our formation is a staggered column with five meter spacing. The hair on the back of our necks is standing on end. Our senses are on high alert. The quietest sound would catch our attention. The slightest movement would draw our eyes. We constantly search every corner and every possible route for pressure plates, trip wires, or IED’s. A change in smell from the typical third world would imply either success or a possible ambush. Sweat is glistening down our brow and falling into our eyes. The sun and desert heat becomes a major factor and obstacle. We must suck it up. We cannot quit.
When we set out for this mission, we headed North paralleling the major MSR. As we approached the first linear danger area, we made successive bounds and changed our course to head East. There was adequate protection to our right side made up by concrete T-Walls. In the event of an ambush, these walls would provide the best cover and concealment from the enemy threat. As we continued to patrol heading East, an odd feeling swept through my body. I began to sense that we were not alone.
I motioned for SGT Thomas to halt and take a knee. I could tell by his actions that he had the same odd feeling. Using hand and arm signals we communicated back and forth as to not break silence and give away our position. SGT Thomas’ sector of fire was from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock in the direction of travel while mine stretched from 2 o’clock to 10 o’clock. This ensured that we had good overlapping sectors. Dead space or uncovered areas are prime for ambushes. Being that we fight in a three dimensional world, our scanning must encompass the lowest levels to the highest roof as well.
While scanning my sector, I hear a faint noise to my 2 o’clock. I turn to SGT Thomas and he motions that he heard it as well. We remain silent continuing to scan every direction possible. Is this a trap? Is the godless hoard mounting an assault around the next corner?
Suddenly I hear it again. The sound is a human voice speaking English. I analyze the sound in my brain to see if this person is using the proper challenge for the day. That was not the case. SGT Thomas and I stare at each other with quizzical looks wondering if we heard the voice correctly.
Then a third time it calls out again. This time just a tad bit louder. There is no misunderstanding what the individual is saying as they are enunciating quite clearly. With a voice barely louder than a whisper we hear their challenge for the 4th time….PURPLE!!!
SGT Thomas and I look at each other and establish the distance and direction. With an almost inaudible tone I respond….GOLD!!! Almost immediately, I hear PURPLE at an almost conversational sound level. SGT Thomas responds with GOLD a little bit louder. Immediately we hear a second and a third voice chime in with a yell….PURPLE as three local nationals stand up behind their concealed positions. SGT Thomas and I lower our weapons and stand as we exclaim…GOLD!!!
We approach the local national workers cautiously as we are still uncertain of their sincerity. This could very well be a trap to lure us in and hold us for ransom. That’s when my keen eyesight that has been cultivated from the constant search for IED’s, picks up on their uniform. I realize immediately that they are definitely Blue Force friendly/coalition) and we are safe. Their garb is intended to blend in with the local populous. Only a trained operative such as SGT Thomas or I could pick up on the signal marking them as friendly. Adorned on top of their heads is the distinctive mark of all that is right in this war on terror. We approach and converse with the locals. A common bond transcends the language barrier. Handshakes are passed around along with well wishes and friendly pats on the back.
Intelligence is key in this type of warfare. We offer help in the form of rations as they guarantee safe passage and critical information that will help us in route to our final destination. The attached photographs act on our behalf as proof that there is an intelligent and civilized group operating in the Baghdad region. With a tearful goodbye and promises to reunite, SGT Thomas and I continue with our mission.
On this day, one which will go down in history, we proud soldiers of the US Army have found the key to winning the War On Terror. The spread of Purple Haze can unite people of any race, creed, or religious background. Friend and foe can learn to coexist in peace once we all realize the glory in what I affectionately call East Carolina University. Take these lessons to heart and begin to spread the word on the home front. Also sleep peacefully at night knowing that SGT Thomas and I now have a clear cut mission to teach all of Iraq the joy that we feel as ECU alumni.
SGT Dan Blalock, East Carolina University Alumnus 2006. SGT Daniel Thomas, East Carolina University Alumnus 2007
It is great to hear stories like this. It lets us all know the passion and pride that people from around the world share for East Carolina University. Thanks to our brave troops overseas and around the World. And for you Sgt. Blalock and Sgt. Thomas….PURPLE!!!!!!