RAMADI, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Matthew L. Phillips knows there is no such thing as a routine patrol or convoy in Ar Ramadi.
The 22-year-old Marine said that divine intervention may have stopped a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) from doing serious damage to him while he was on patrol in the Al Anbar capital.
“We were rolling west with a convoy when I felt and heard a blast on the driver’s side of our vehicle,” said Phillips, from Dallas, Texas. “At first I wasn’t sure if we were hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) or RPG.”
Phillips, a vehicle gunner with the battalion commander’s Personal Security Detachment (PSD), Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, sustained only minor wounds when a rocket crashed through the rear driver side door and exited the opposite side.
While Phillips was providing security for the patrol, a rocket was fired from a side road.
The force of the rocket penetrated through ballistic glass and then sailed through the entire back seat over Phillips’ legs, missing him by inches. Shrapnel flaked off the RPG as it navigated through the humvee. It left a trail of flames, debris and glass before exiting the other rear passenger window.
“All I felt was my hand and knees burning,” said Phillips. “I realized I was hit.”
“God had a hand in this one, I don’t think this was straight luck,” added Philips.
Sgt. Nicholas W. Jenkins, a vehicle commander who has conducted more than 300 mounted patrols for PSD, quickly reacted as his truck filled up with smoke and dirt.
“As soon as it happened I grabbed the radio and told the other vehicles that we were good and still rolling,” said the 26-year-old from Twin City, Ga. “As we pushed through the kill zone I began checking the driver and gunner. I knew the gunner was wounded but at the time I couldn’t tell how bad it was.”
His driver, Lance Cpl. Andy L. Nevers, was dazed by the shock of the explosion.
“I felt it pass right by my head,” said Nevers, 24, from Bronx, N.Y. “All I heard was “Go!” so I slammed my foot down on the gas.”
The convoy immediately headed toward a secure outpost.
Jenkins said if he had been transporting any passengers at the time the impact would have been catastrophic.
“I jokingly told Phillips that I’m glad he’s short,” said Jenkins. “If he was an inch taller or facing in any other direction he would have been hit.”
He also noted the RPG missed hitting the cans of high explosive rounds that were stacked beside Phillips.
Phillips sustained shrapnel wounds that pierced his left hand and wrist along with both knees. He was treated at the battalion aid station and returned that afternoon to the unit.
This wasn’t the first time Phillips had a near-death experience in Iraq.
The first incident happened during the battalion’s deployment to Fallujah in 2005. Phillips was traveling in a convoy when his 7-ton vehicle ran over a powerful IED. The explosion detonated underneath the truck causing four flat tires and forcing it into a 180 degree spin. All 12 passengers in the rear of the truck, including Phillips, were thrown from the vehicle before it rolled over on its top side.
Phillips received shrapnel wounds from that attack as well.
Phillips, now on his second deployment to Iraq, knows that Ar Ramadi is one of the most dangerous places in the country. This was the second RPG attack against a Marine vehicle in the past week. Marines here know “it’s like rolling dice” every time they leave the wire.
“We are fighting an aggressive insurgency here,” he said. “They can do what they want to us but we’ll keep coming. This attack won’t affect us from doing our job.”