"I thought this was where I'm gonna die"

Jeremy Bowen has seen a lot in his 26 years.  The Army veteran from Boyd County took part in the bloody Battle of Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. The battle is described as some of the heaviest urban combat since Vietnam.  In the latest of our profiles of student veterans, based on the University of Kentucky’s oral history project, “From Combat to Kentucky”, Bowen recalls being a 19 year-old paratrooper, arriving in Iraq.

“I watched that movie Platoon a lot when I was a kid, and when they first land in Vietnam, they lower the back gate of the airplane, and you see the, uh, heat wave across the runway, and you see palm trees and stuff.  And I flew over there in a C-5, which is a double-decker plane.  I walked downstairs and came off the back ramp of that.  They lowered the gate and I look out and, um--I seen one palm tree, like, way off in the distance 'cause there's not very much vegetation there.  And I just see heat wave all the way across, and dust, and I'm like, wow.  It just felt like I was walking right into that movie. I think it was about two, two in the afternoon when we got there, and it was smoking hot.  It was hot.  Um, I think it was probably between 125 to 130 degrees, there on the tarmac.  The Army band was sitting there.  It was kind of funny 'cause when you land in Iraq, the last thing you expect to see is a band sitting there playing.  But as we were getting off the plane, they had a band playing instruments and stuff there, as we were getting off.  And it was kind--I almost felt like it was a joke or something, and then they--like, "Welcome to the Iraq.  All we do is play music and, you know, whatever."  Then they load us onto a bus and took us to what they called a tent city?

And, uh, that was at the Baghdad International Airport.  They took us to this tent city and they had probably a hundred guys shoved in every tent.  You know, the cots, it was like you were almost sharing cots with people, to sleep on, and no room at all.  And that was where we waited for two weeks, maybe three weeks, for our orders, where we were going.  I think we done like, one mission out of, or done a couple air assaults out of, um, Baghdad for the first couple weeks, and then we just kind of sat around and waited, and, uh, didn't know where we were going, so.

My team leader came in and at first, we were supposed to,I thought we were gonna stay in Baghdad or somewhere around there, 'cause I thought that was a dangerous spot, you know. That's where they were gonna send us big, bad paratroopers, you know?  And, uh, my team leader came in and said, "We're goin' to the Wild West."  And I'm like, well, what does that mean?  And he said, "Well, that's what they call the city we're goin' to."  And he said, "Uh, the city's called Al Fallujah," and I'm like, Al Fallujah?  I never heard of that.  And I tried to say it a couple times and finally got the pronunciation right.  And, uh, they said it's a pretty dangerous spot, right in the center of the Sunni Triangle, and, uh, that's where a lot of insurgents were, and, uh, we'd be heading there, I think we had two days left in Baghdad, and we'd be driving there.   And, uh, that was kinda scary thought.  Uh, I think he was building us up or getting us prepared mentally.  Telling us, you know, givin' us some stories.  I don't know as far as how reliable they were or what, of what's happened there since the war kicked off, and what's currently happening there.  What type of insurgencies we're looking at, and, um, so we--I'm not gonna lie, I was scared to death at that point.  I thought that this is where I'm gonna die, is Al Fallujah, or however you said it, you know.  That's where I'm gonna die, and, uh, yeah, it was a nerve-wracking time.”Bowen was about to find out just how nerve wracking war can be. In part two of our profile of Jeremy Bowen, the paratrooper recalls the shock of killing an enemy fighter. 

Bowen was about to find out just how nerve wracking war can be. In part two of our profile of Jeremy Bowen, the paratrooper recalls the shock of killing an enemy fighter.