Chapter One: This Isn't Happening

        “I’m a Marine, I’m a fucking Marine!” I say aloud to myself as

automatic gunfire rages only feet away. I stand motionless, breathing

shallow breaths, my heart pounding through my throat. I can do this.

        I’m alone in a reinforced box called Post One, the security

nerve center of the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It’s

midmorning on December 6, 2004, and I’m standing guard over a

small plot of American soil amidst the grand Kingdom of Saudi


        The “duck and cover” alarm is blaring throughout the consulate:

“Ber-err, ber-err, ber-err.” Three men carrying large automatic

weapons appear directly in front of me at the consulate entrance.

My gaze darts to one tugging at the door handle. I watch as he steps

back and opens fire on the heavy metal door partially covered with

bullet-resistant glass. The spray of bullets begins to penetrate the

glass, causing it to crack and splinter—forming small shiny veins of

fracture that dash farther and farther away from the muzzle flash of

the intruder’s weapon. A small hole forms, and I realize for the first

time that there’s nothing bulletproof about those doors, nor is the

safety of anyone in the consulate assured.

        Among the most vulnerable are the three Marines in the Marine

House several yards from the consulate building, probably waking

up from a deep sleep and definitely unarmed. The house looks like

one of those small bungalows you find in Northern California. Only

a normal doorknob lies between them and whoever just broke into

the compound with assault rifles.

       “All Marines, all Marines! This is Post One. Come in, over!” I

scream through the radio.

        “What the fuck is going on?” one Marine asks groggily. It’s

Staff Sergeant Youngblood, a thirty-something Texan who had just

gotten off duty and was sleeping.

        “We’re under attack. There are three or four guys with automatic

weapons firing on my position. Get your shit and stay put!”

I don’t know who has gotten through our perimeter defense or

where they all are. Risking an order for the Marines to run weaponless

to the consulate now could mean their deaths. I’m not about to risk

my fellow Marines’ lives, the only people I can count on to keep the

Americans and other employees alive.

        Suddenly the firing stops, and I wrench my head around to look

up at the door. I can barely see the man through the crushed glass.

He is bending over and reaching into a tan satchel. At this point the

piercing sound of the alarms fades into a murmur. I squint, narrowly

focusing on the man’s hands, which are fidgeting with something.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see two other intruders on the

ground. One is wincing in pain and leaning against a cement pillar

under the American flag. The other is sitting beside him, trying to

comfort him and then glancing back at the entrance and calling out

something in Arabic. My eyes dart back to the hole in the glass.

        The man at the door is staring through the hole at me. He pulls

something out of his bag and shoves it into the hole. Reaching back

into his bag he grabs a bottle and splashes fluid over the door. It

coats the glass, leaving what looks like small pieces of rice sticking

to the surface. And then he lifts a flame to the door. IED—Fuck!

                                                      * * *

        The Boston metro car tipped and shook as the metallic wheels

squealed, tugging on the tracks. My eyes opened. Sunlight vanished

as the train went underground and a fluorescent hue filled the cabin.

My memory of Jeddah was vivid and haunting, but welcome. I needed

to remember.