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