The Tal’Afar Shuffle

Bright orange flame pierced the dark

Of night – the sound of machine-gun

Fire and RPG’s whistling overhead as

I tried to call Charlie three-two; the

Stryker directly in front of me that

Was hit. There was no answer other

Than the sound of our return fire as

We suppressed the stretch of town

That was dark except for the twinkle

Of muzzle flashes from every rooftop.


We tried to speed through the ambush

But adrift Charlie three-two began to

List a little to the right, off the road and

Then came to a halt; we are now stopped

In the kill-zone. The entire convoy spat

Lead at the buildings and rooftops.

Having no comms from the Stryker I

Ordered the medic out with dismounts

To cover his advance. The medic was in the

Rear of the convoy so I dispatched my

Own dismount to secure three-two and

Provide covering fire; the convoy still engaged.


The Engineer Battalion we had in tow

Had no night vision and therefore drove

With their headlights on; and as I lowered

The ramp for Kirk to dismount, we locked

Eyes and we both knew what we had to do.

He ran down the back of the ramp and into

White light of the Engineers behind me;

Bullets began to kick dust spots in the

Road around his feet as Kirk weaved left

Then paused and spun right – like a football

Player in the big game, dodging the incoming

Fire in an odd dance of which he was the lone

Participant; scared I’m sure but fearless so

He could make it to our wounded men.


And all this occurring in mere seconds, my

Finger still on the switch raising the ramp as

He bobbed and weaved; the tightest pit in

My stomach because I yearned to be on

The ground with him, the man who has my

Back when I dismount – cast into the

Metallic wind on that cold night, illuminated

By his own, making the Hajji’s job easier

And as the ramp slammed shut and Kirk

Zig-zagged his way into the darkness I

Realize the true meaning of leadership –


To knowingly want to be right beside the man

You are sending into harms way, yet have the

Discipline to  stay right where you are;

Hands on your rifle but keeping one free for

Cradling the radio mic. Directing battle.

Nothing they teach you in courses or class can

Compare to the lesson learned when you

Stay right where you are, while the men you

Love with every ounce of your soul run into

A sea of fire at your command.

About anotherwarriorpoet

Mathew Bocian served as a Captain in the United States Army with the Stryker Brigade and was deployed to Mosul and Tal'Afar in 2004 - 2005, and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007 - 2008. He left the Army in 2012 and now uses his poetry as a way to heal from the traumas of war, while attempting to express to readers the realities of war. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and holds a master's from the Graduate School for Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
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