Ben Harrow, a former Captain in the US Army Special Forces, shares his story and the injury that forced him to medically retire.
- I was hand-selected by the brigade commander, who was in charge of almost 5,000 troops, to run his personal security detail. Some of my responsibilities for that job is I had to pick my own team. And so, obviously, again, I picked the strongest non-commissioned officer I could have. I had already had the best with Sergeant Steele. He molded me into a right, effective platoon leader. Now, I wanted another one just like him to make sure that I was going to be doing the right things. I wanted a man to keep me in line.
I wanted one with so much experience that, no matter what happened to me, he could pick up the slack without missing a beat. And I found that in Sergeant First Class Brink. And, with Brink, we hand-selected our radioman, Mahoney. Then, our medic, Balderrama. Then, we had two riflemens, Secor and Ochart. Together, we formed the PSD, the personal security detail of the brigade commander, at the time Colonel Minguez, and the command sergeant major, Command Sergeant Major Griffin.
We deployed again in 2012 to the eastern province of Afghanistan, Kunar Province. Well, Julalabad, sorry, and then Kunar Province. And we had 45 different outstations all throughout the eastern province. It was an unbelievable tour. I got to see so many places in Afghanistan. Meet so many different people and so many different units. I learned a lot about what the military was all about, the way things were working in Afghanistan, the leadership mindset behind our missions and their campaigns.
And I was protecting two incredible men. But, on August 8, 2012, things changed. On August 8, 2012, my life changed forever. And the lives of 20 plus more men changed forever. August 8, 2012 was the worst day of my life. I ran the personal security detail for, obviously, Colonel Minguez and Command Sergeant Griffin.
That day we were going to the Kunar Province, the city of Asadabad, to attend a security meeting with a governor, Governor Wahidi. We had done this mission at least half a dozen times before. Heck, my previous tour, I actually owned this area of operation. I'd been there a hundred times. The area wasn't particularly dangerous. It did have the threats, but everywhere in Afghanistan you have the same threats. Possible enemy suicide bomber that wants to attack coalition forces or local Afghan national police or Afghan National Army.
Just, sort of, a broad threat. We understood that. But nothing had happened there in years against coalition forces. So, I felt pretty comfortable. But, the night before, I asked for a 12 to 15 escort. That's how we worked. Every time we left Jalalabad, the base, and we went to another outstation, I would call the base the night before and let them know, "Hey, this is a mission. This is who I'm bringing. This is how long we're going to be there. This is what I need.
12 to 15 escorts." Which meant 12 to 15 soldiers to make sure that we had the right protection if we went outside the wire. And 99.9% of the time I got those men. Why? Because I'm bringing in the big boss and the big boss wants security. He's going to get security. That was until August 8, 2012. When we arrived at Camp Fiaz, which is the outpost where our helicopters landed before we made a dismounted movement towards the security meeting in the city, I didn't get the 12 to 15.
I got two. And that's where doing this type of job that we had becomes difficult. Because my boss, the colonel, that's not his job nor does he have the time to think about how many security we have. To him, as soon as he hits the ground, he's walking towards that meeting. Because he's got to go to another meeting, after that another meeting. It's my job and he trusts me with that responsibility.
He trusts me that I set everything up for success. So, as soon as he's there, he's walking. That's exactly what he did that day. So, I had to change things. I had to adapt and be flexible on the go. But, in this case, we're talking about people's lives. So, what I did is, I took some Afghan National Army men from that base and I put them up front of my patrol. And I told them to spread out. I didn't want them behind me because we'd had some green-on-blues, which means that some individuals who serve for the Afghan National Army had decided to turn against coalition forces and have shot some Americans.
So, at this point, I'm still going to take them, but I don't want them behind me. Obviously for security reasons and safety. But, if I put them up front, my patrol can appear bigger. So, if there's any potential threat, they're going to see how big we are, how many people we have. Maybe that will deter them from actually taking a course of action against us. Then, I took Sergeant First Class Brink, who, by the way, at that specific time, as soon as I'm looking out there, I'm trying to figure out what's happening, he's having the exact same thoughts.
That's how close we were as leaders of this team. And he looked at me and I looked at him. I said, "Brink, we can't do this the way we always do it." He says, "Roger that, sir." I'm like, "I need you up front. I need you to control the pace." He said, "Roger." I'm like, "'Cause the boss, Colonel, will never walk past you. Control the pace." He said, "Okay." And I told him to take Secor. And Secor was a main security guy for Command Sergeant Major Griffin. And I told him, "Take Secor and put him up front with you." So he did.
And the way we worked was, every time we were outside the wire, I had those 12 to 15 escorts, so outer security. Now, internally, we had a diamond. In the diamond, I would always put Balderrama, my medic, up front. Then, I would have a rifleman to my right. Then, I would have Mahoney, my radio guy, to my left. And myself to the rear. And, inside the diamond, we put our principals, the colonel, command sergeant major, or whoever principals we have.
Well, on August 8, 2012, I had another brigade commander, three battalion commanders, an Afghan general, two command sergeant majors, one battalion level, one brigade level, two GS-15 State Department foreign area officers, and two majors, brigade level. And just my team. So, we had to pick and choose. And I put all the colonels and the Afghan general in this diamond, which defeated the entire purpose of the diamond, which was, if we get hit, any principals inside the diamond, we'd collapse on them, we'd protect them with our bodies, and then we take them away to safety.
In this case, we had just way too many. But it is better than nothing. I asked Command Sergeant Major Griffin to come in the diamond. And this man looked at me and said, "You've got to be crazy. There's way too many officers in there. I don't want to be near this place." I said, "Sergeant Major..." he looked at me and says, "LT, I got more experience here than anybody. I know how to carry a rifle. And I know how to run security from the rear.
We need more security. I'm rear security." And I looked at him and said, "Roger that." I turned around and I remember thinking, "Thank God. Thank God this guy is here." Because I knew that I didn't have to worry about what's going to happen in the rear. I got the best soldier out here doing it. And that, to me, made me feel a lot more comfortable. And so, we stepped off. But, before we stepped off, I did something that I had never done before. I made another change. And, instead of me being in the rear of the diamond, I put myself at the spear.
Because I wanted better eyes on. I'd never done that in six months. Completely changed everything. But I was more comfortable. And we walked. The entire movement's about a thousand meters. That's it. I mean, it's pretty short. On foot, that would take you a good eight, nine minutes, maybe 10 with all the gear and all the people and it's hot. And the road is curved. You got a pretty good nice, long straightaway that led to some stairs up towards the compound.
And, as we made that turn around the curve, and we start on the long straightaway, there was a little bridge about 200 meters away from the stairs to get across. And, right before that bridge, we had a couple houses to the left. And, to the left of the stairs, as the road continued, it curved again into the city. When we got close to the bridge, two motorcycles came flying down from the city around that curve towards our patrol.
The Afghan National Army guy in front of us did something incredible, in my opinion. Instead of freaking out or being stuck, he ran towards the motorcycles and raised his rifle and started screaming at them. That forced the men on the motorcycles to dump their bikes and start running away. Now, everybody was fixated towards those two motorcycles. Like, whoa, what's going on here? It's really odd. And the fact that they kept coming so fast towards us, there was something wrong with this.
But there was. They were the diversion. 'Cause at the exact same moment, a man came out of one of those houses to the left. He was wearing manjams, or PJs, long PJS, black. And he was walking backwards. Sergeant Brink turned around to talk to me after those motorcycles came towards us, 'cause he's up front, remember. Turns around to talk to me and, before he can make eye contact with me, he stops and stares to my left.
That immediately made me look to my left. And, as I looked to my left, I saw that man. But I couldn't see a weapon. It was odd. I figured there's something wrong with this guy. And he was walking backwards parallel to us. Then he did a 180 and he cut right into my patrol. I never lost sight of him. I was connected on him.
And, when he made that 180, I started moving. And, when he cut into my patrol, he did a 90 degree turn, he cut into my patrol, I was at him. I yelled at him. Said some nice words of choice for him. No reaction. He keeps walking. Never looks at me. Never smiles, not even look angry. Just lost, like he was committed to something and he wasn't even there. When I got close to him, I hit him with my rifle.
Hit him right in the chest. Again, never looked at me. I hit a man as hard as I could in the chest and he still did not look at me. So, I dropped my rifle and I had it slung. And I grabbed him by the chest. 'Cause I felt that he had something when I hit him. I didn't know what it was. Maybe a plate carrier. But it wasn't a plate carrier when I grabbed him. At that point, I knew he had a suicide vest on. And so, you do what you're trained.
You follow every single thing that you learned over your life. All those lessons that made you who you are, that type of individual that you are that specific moment. You take all that, you shake it up. And then, you just follow through with instincts. You trust in your training. You trust in your love for your brothers. But you do your job. And my job, at that specific moment, was to make sure that the Sergeant Major and the Colonel came home alive.
And, if that meant that I did not or my men did not, but they did, then that's what you call a successful day at work. So, I screamed, "Bomb." Sergeant Mahoney, when he saw me move, moved with me. So, after I hit him, grabbed him, and start pushing him. I was like, "Bomb." Mahoney's right next to me and I threw him as far as I could. And Mahoney finished him off. Then he landed at my feet, 'cause I falled with him. He landed at my feet and he detonated.
You know, I woke up a couple minutes later. My fibula was sticking out. My leg was on fire. My foot was facing me. I had blood everywhere. I didn't know what had happened. I thought I stepped on an IED. But I was in shock and I knew that. I knew that, because I was in shock, I wasn't feeling any pain. And there was about 15 good minutes I had, potentially. So, I checked myself for more internal bleeding. I was good. I couldn't find my rifle, so I took my pistol, made sure I had a round in the chamber, and started to drag myself out of the kill zone.
And that's when Sergeant Brink showed up out of nowhere like a movie through a dust of cloud. And he grabbed me by the handle of my plate carrier and dragged me into a ditch where my medic, Specialist Balerrama, with a torn MCL and PCl, worked on me and saved my life. Put a tourniquet, he bandaged me up, kept me awake, didn't want to give me water, which pissed me off, but there was a reason why he was not giving me water. It was because of when I go into surgery. And that's when I was asking for a status report.
What happened? Where's Mountain Warrior Six, Colonel Minguez? Where's Mountain Warrior Seven, Command Sergeant Major Griffin? They said Mountain Warrior Six is good. He's alive. He's got a concussion. He's fine. They said Sergeant Major didn't make it. And that was tough. That was the toughest, toughest words I have ever, ever heard in my life. I didn't believe them, at first. I told them to take me out of this ditch and carry me towards the vehicle. I wanted to see Sergeant Major. And, when I got to Sergeant Major, he was there with Major Gray, Major Kennedy, and Ragaei Abdelfattah.
And they were all killed in action from the guy that I threw on the ground. And so, I went through every emotion that you can possibly go through on a negative side as a man or as a human being. And I was angry. And I lost four great Americans, four leaders, four family members. Griffin's got two kids. Gray's got three kids. Kennedy just had twins prior to that.
Ragaei had a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, boys. They were family men. They were religious men in their own faith. They were community men. They were all proud husbands and sons and brothers. And they were all killed in action by 18, 19-year-old boy, who was probably drugged, who wanted to detonate himself for his cause. And I was devastated. And that's when everything changed.
And my war ended that day when they put me in a vehicle and closed the door and said, "It's time for you to go recover, sir." I never realized that would be the last time I would ever serve as an infantry officer for the rest of my life. I never realized that that was the door closing for my military career. And that, three years later, I would be in a business suit.
But it came. And, for the rest of my life, August 8, 2012 will represent the worst day, but it also will represent the day that I got to serve with America's greatest heroes. My four friends, Command Sergeant Major Griffin, Major Gray, Major Kennedy, and Ragaei Abdelfattah.
Discover how to understand your strengths and value, where your skills fit into today's job market, and how to translate your experience into a solid resume. Learn how a mentor can help you navigate the transition and open up new opportunities. With Flo's advice, you can find a new purpose and continue the journey you started in the military—bringing your talents to bear on a whole new mission in life.
- Taking initiative
- Understanding your value
- Translating your experiences
- Building your resume
- Using a mentor
- Setting realistic expectations
- Building a network
- Transitioning into a new job
- Bonus videos featuring stories of transition from veterans