Michael Yon has lived an interesting life — he graduated from the US Army’s Special Forces school at the top of his class, became part of Michael Jackson’s security detail, and spent time hunting cannibals in India.
However, none of those experiences amounted to what happened when he decided to become a war correspondent and embedded with the US military during two concurrent wars.
After covering soldiers of Deuce Four battalion in Iraq for around five months, he became intimately acquainted with the soldiers — some of them even jokingly offered their rifles to him in tense situations. In a sense, he was accepted into their pack.
But whether or not this was a good pack to be accepted into could depend on your preference for danger — one-third of the soldiers in Deuce Four became casualties during the war in Iraq. Even the senior ranking soldiers went on patrols, and wouldn’t allow any newcomers into their unit without observing how they performed in combat.
In a scene that could only be described as a Michael Bay movie, Lieutenant Colonel Erik Kurilla, the commander of the Deuce Four Battalion, was wounded from gunfire in a crowded market. After one of the other soldiers engaged the enemy in close-quarters combat, Yon, the embedded journalist, found himself holding an M-4 rifle.
It wasn’t always like this — in fact, he didn’t even want to be in a combat zone at first. As he was pursuing work outside of the military, his buddies from the Army kept goading him to join them in the fray after the attacks on 9/11.
But it wasn’t until the death of Scott Helvenston, the youngest Navy SEAL in history, that his perspective changed. Helvenston was one of the contractors that was ambushed, killed, and hung from a bridge by insurgents right before the Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
“We went to the same high school and played football together,” Yon told Business Insider. “I was really upset.”
After purchasing $30,000 worth of equipment and calling in some favours, he soon found himself documenting numerous firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the current firefight he was in was a bit different.
“I didn’t want to leave Erik,” Yon told Business Insider. “I’ve been with him for five months, mission after mission, and he’s one of the best combat leaders I’ve ever seen.”
Yon yelled for a magazine to one of the other soldiers near him. After receiving one, his Army training kicked in and he successfully locked a round into the rifle’s chamber.
“This was one of those moments where your plane’s on fire and you’re without a parachute,” said Yon. “You just figure this s**t out as you go.”
As a non-combatant, his actions would potentially violate the Geneva Conventions, and at the very least, cause a huge headache for military officials due to liability issues.
Firing three rounds with his newly acquired rifle, he realised something was wrong. One of the bullets had hit a propane canister which started flying towards Yon’s face. Spinning uncontrollably, Yon recalls that he knew the propane canister had barely missed him after he was hit by propane gas in the face.
In the end, Lieutenant Colonel Kurilla recovered from his wounds and even deployed to another combat zone a year later.
After the dust settled, military officials were placed in an awkward position — how would one reprimand the man that had attempted to save a soldier’s life, and yet was possibly breaking international laws in doing so?
Yon merely ended up receiving a slap on the wrist and a grey-statement from the military.
“This was a delicate situation,” Yon continued with a chuckle. “But the troops loved it.”
Although he doesn’t embed with the military as he did back in the day, Yon continues to blog about his experiences and views about the military.
“Spending time with the troops was definitely the highlight of my life,” Yon explained to Business Insider. “I’m happy and honored to have covered the troops.”
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