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A Desperate Battle Pitting Pistols against RPGs

Written By: W. Thomas Smith Jr.  |  Posted: Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

U.S. Army Lt. Col. (then major) had experienced little combat action prior to Aug. 21, 2007. It was early in his deployment to Afghanistan, and much of his experience at that point had been IED attacks. But the series of ambushes that unfolded that day against him as he led a six vehicle convoy south of Forward Operating Base Martello in Kandahar Province was so close (nearly eyeball-to-eyeball) and intense, the 39-year-old Airborne-Ranger infantry officer briefly wondered if he or any of his men would get out alive. Others briefly questioned their survival too. "Briefly, " mind you, because as anyone who has ever experienced combat-action knows, once the shooting starts, all the training and rehearsals for just such a scenario kick-in. The adrenaline is surging, blood-pressure is spiking, and everyone is operating on instinct, command, and commonsense.

Connor recalls his vehicle - a five-ton truck in which he was sitting on the passenger side (vehicle commander's position) - being struck by automatic weapons fire from both sides of the road; "bullets cracking all around the crew compartment of our vehicle" he writes in his after-action report. Instantly, suppressive fire was returned by Sergeant (then Specialist) Maurice Leonard ripping into the Taliban ambush with his FN Herstal 7.62mm belt-fed M240 machinegun from a top-mounted turret. All vehicles were racing to get out of the kill zone. All gunners were blasting away with M240s and M249 5.56mm light-machineguns. And all passengers were returning fire when possible with M4s (the carbine version of the 5.56mm M-16 rifle). For Connor and his driver Specialist Alonzo Escorza, however, their primary weapons - the M4 - proved less practical than their pistols.
"We had to use our [Beretta 9mm] pistols because the M4 carbine was not practical to use out of the five-ton, " Connor - who is currently campaigning for the office of South Carolina Lt. Gov. - told me during a conversation about Afghanistan this week. "The cramped crew situation and firing outside of the windows was just not going to work. Thank goodness my holster [a Blackhawk with a quick-release SERPA lock-technology button] allowed for a quick draw and I was able to reach out of the window, and aim my pistol to fire."
He adds, "My holster was a 'side' holster that strapped on my leg and belt. It was like you see in cowboy movies or 'Hans Solo' in Star Wars. The 9mm 'clicked' into a locked position in the hard plastic holder. To draw the weapon all you did was push a small button and it came out quickly. This was much, much easier than the Army issue holster that hooked on the belt and was soft. You had to spend seconds to get it out to use it if necessary."
Seconds they did not have.

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