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Avril Lavigne Saved My Life in Baghdad

50 cal bullet

Yes, you read that correctly.  And, yes, I’m talking about Baghdad, Iraq.

Of course, she may not have done so directly, but, when it comes to life-or-death situations, indirect impacts are just as noteworthy.

I still remember the song that saved my life and my head from being ripped clear off my shoulders from two .50 caliber rounds.

It was March 2004 and, at the time, I was working for a company called Blackwater Worldwide on a protection detail for then Ambassador Bremer in Iraq.  On that particular day, I was leaving Ambassador Bremer’s villa and wanted to stop by the CPA compound (what is now the US Embassy) to get myself a hot dinner.  It was only about a 5-minute drive.

I drove a soft-skinned Chevy Tahoe and arrived at the CPA vehicle entry checkpoint (ECP), manned by US Marines at the time.  The radio was tuned into the Armed Forces Network radio station – it was then that the station started playing Avril Lavigne’s song, “I’m With You”.

I thought, “My God, this is awful – I need to change the music right NOW.”  Instead of changing the channel, I remembered that I had my “Baghdad Metal Mix 2004” burned onto a CD (back in 2004, burned music CDs were quite the rage).

While I waited to get through the ECP, I momentarily leaned forward to grab the CD and insert it into the CD player when I heard two very close shots from a large caliber weapon. Instinct told me we were under fire, so I immediately exited the vehicle and took cover in front of the driver side wheel.  The shots were so close, it was hard to tell where the shots were coming from.  In fact, the Marine who checked my ID at the checkpoint also took cover next to me.

While trying to assess the point of origin of the gunfire, I saw a young Marine private run out of the ECP machine gun bunker with his hands up, face as white as a ghost, yelling, “I DIDN’T MEAN IT! I DIDN’T MEAN IT!”  I quickly realized that he had a major f*** up.  While this realization settled in, I also noticed my right, rear window was shattered.

Now, I was confused.  Things weren’t making sense.  The machine gun bunker was located on the driver’s side when entering the checkpoint, yet my rear window on the opposite side of the vehicle had its window blown out.  Immediately, I started looking for an entry point on the driver’s side, but couldn’t find one anywhere.  Scratching my head, I then remembered that I had pulled the driver’s side window completely down to show my ID to the Marine at the checkpoint.

I thought, “By some miracle, could it be possible that the bullets somehow went around my big, fat head and out the rear, right window?” I looked inside the driver’s side window and that’s when I saw two tightly-grouped bullet holes in the headrest, exactly where my head had been just moments before.

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A Marine gunny came running out from the CPA barracks area and asked me if I was ok.

I responded, “I’m ok, just f***ing hungry!”

Gunny responded, “Good thing you didn’t get injured!”

To which I responded, “Injured?? If a .50 cal round even grazed me, I’d be dead right now!”

Needless to say, I kept the headrest as a souvenir.

But it all brings me to a couple of points worthy of sharing.

GONZ’S LESSONS:

  • I often hear people talk about hypothetical situations of taking cover behind a vehicle door in a gun fight. Unless up-armored, vehicle doors provide very poor stopping cover and most bullets will punch right through – put yourself behind steel, like a steel wheel and/or engine block.
  • Butterfly triggers on “Ma Deuces” (.50 cal M2 machine guns) are very “touchy”, as that young Marine found out. And besides that, this reiterates and reinforces the fourth rule of firearms safety, “never point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to kill or destroy”.
  • It’s possible to hate a song so much that you end up loving it under a bizarre chain of circumstances.

Fast-forward nearly 13 years later, I still work in the private security world while working with the team at RTBA.  Last week we were at SHOT Show in Las Vegas and I couldn’t help but smile when my team handed me my business cards:

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My .50 Cal Bullet Bottle Opener “Business Card”

A .50 caliber round converted into a business card is definitely unforgettable and it got a lot of positive reactions from people at the show; but it’s unforgettable to me for entirely different reasons.  I’m sure that every time I look at these, I’ll think about the day that Avril Lavigne (and Baghdad Metal Mix 2004) saved my life.


“GONZ”
Follow “Gonz” as he publishes more articles about his personal experiences through over a decade of heavy combat throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. SUBSCRIBE to be notified each time a new article is published.
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4 thoughts on “Avril Lavigne Saved My Life in Baghdad

  1. Dave says:

    Avril Lavigne saved your life? What kind of wake up call do you need? God saved you! It’s time to get you get your life right with God.

  2. Karl Ballon says:

    Kinda similar story in my family. My father was a WWII Vet, Navy CPO, Pharmacist Mate on ship and a combat medic on shore to the platoon of Marines he was assigned to when there was a landing operation. They were in the Med and getting ready to shimmy down the rope ladder into the LCI that they were going to use and were one of hundreds of like craft landing in the allied invasion of North Africa. There was a Marine Lt, a college grad, 90-Day wonder fresh out of OCS with zero combat experience; they put this Lt in charge of the platoon. The kid was scared of heights and had dropped on one knee as to tie his boot when he should have been engaging the ladder. Dad was aware of the real problem and reached down to help the kid to his feet, telling him he’d help him deal with the ladder. In the moment dad leaned forward to make eye contact, a German craft harassing that part of the landing operation fired its 88mm deck gun. The shell hit a well armored section of the ship, exploded and inflicted no real damage. In that moment dad leaned to help the Lt. out, a chunk of shrapnel pierced to top of dad’s helmet, parted his hair in a new place and imbedded itself in the bulkhead behind where he was standing. Had dad not leaned forward to help this marine with the fear of the rope ladder (and doing it in a way that saved the Lt face), that shrapnel would have gone through his head or neck and I would not be here to write this.

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