CAMP HURRICANE POINT, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- The operation had gone smoothly. The Marines who the machine gunner with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was providing security for were loading into their vehicles, when a lone shot rang out knocking him from his vehicle turret.
A sniper bullet deflected off his helmet and impacted on the armor of his turret leaving him dazed but alive.
“I was in the turret of the Humvee providing security for Marines patrolling the streets and searching buildings,” explained Lance Cpl. Mario R. De la Rosa, who was manning his M2.50 Caliber Machine Gun at the time. “We were getting ready to leave so I took a field of fire down an alleyway. I sat there traversing my turret looking for any enemy or cars speeding toward the vehicles while they loaded up in the 7-tons and Humvees.
“Out of nowhere something hit me in the head,” the 2003 Livermore High School graduate said. “I fell down. I guess it was my body’s natural reaction.”
De la Rosa, a 20-year-old from San Francisco, groaned as he fell from the humvee’s turret and into its cabin where Cpl. Christopher A. Hook, his team leader, was riding shotgun.
“It was a scary noise, and it echoed throughout the humvee,” said Hook, a 26-year-old from Chelsea, Va. “It took my breath away when I heard it. I thought we’d lost him.”
Lance Cpl. Tyler R. Hughes, a rifleman in De la Rosa’s squad, was driving and shared Hook’s trepidation.
“He made that sound and fell and I thought, ‘Oh my God, my buddy just got shot and is dead,’” recalled the 21-yea-old from Akron, Ohio.
De la Rosa was far from dead though. Stunned from the impact to his helmet, he instinctively resorted back to his training.
“My ears were ringing bad, and my head was throbbing but I got back up in the turret,” he said. “I was thinking about the immediate action drills we do after taking sniper fire.”
Hook and other Marines in the vehicle halted De la Rosa though, so they could check him over for wounds.
“He stayed on his gun even though he got shot,” said Hook, a 1996 graduate of Chelsea High School. “We had to pull him down. We assessed him, determined he was alright, popped smoke and then got out of there.”
Once the Marines concealed themselves, they retrograded back to camp.
De la Rosa has an impressive war story to share with friends and family when he returns home from deployment. He’s humbled from the experience for now though, and will hold off on the boasting until later.
“I’m just grateful to be alive.”