NAWA, Afghanistan --
All Marines endure some risk of serious injury or even death while deployed to combat, but for Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Gray, a few inches and a punctured rifle is all that separated him from a very bad day on the battlefield.
Gray, a 20-year-old rifleman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and his Marines are no strangers to direct conflicts with insurgents in Nawa's northern area. On May 15, during the final patrol of his deployment, Gray and his seasoned squad were in a firefight near Patrol Base Poole.
The squad was engaged by approximately eight insurgents from two locations with machine guns and AK-47 rifles. The patrol found cover in a nearby irrigation canal during the battle and Gray, who had his M-16A4 up in his shoulder looking through his rifle combat optics at a nearby building, heard the crack of a bullet and felt a sharp pain in his face.
Gray said he heard and felt shock of the bullet's impact, causing him to drop his rifle to his side. When he noticed blood on his face, he notified his patrol leader, but continued to fight.
It was not until the firefight was over and Marines began to return to the patrol base did Gray notice that the bullet had punched a hole right through the base of his RCO's aluminum housing, sending the metal shard into his cheek.
Only six inches separated his right temple from the bullet's impact on his weapon.
Gray said looking back on the events after they happened made him realize just how close he had come to being seriously injured or killed.
"That was my last patrol before going home," said Gray, a native of Warner Robins, Ga., while shaking his head.
Gray's squad has already endured one of their Marines killed in action in January. That Marine is now the namesake of their patrol base. In total, Bravo Company has suffered three of the battalion's five fatalities during the deployment.
"When I first saw what happened to Gray, I thought it was a little too close for comfort," said 1st Lt. Paul C. Trower, 2nd Platoon commander, Bravo Company, 1/3 "When Gray arrived, he was fine, but a little shaken up and had some adrenaline pumping. He was very calm, considering what had happened."
Trower, 25, from Fort Hood, Texas, said as a platoon commander, hearing about engagements and close calls like that makes him hold his breath, but was relieved that all of his Marines came back alright.