I never put much faith in depending on luck for the outcome I wanted. Believing in luck is something for gamblers and athletes. Luck is a word used by them to describe very random occurrences. In my world good luck is when experience and planning come together.
I am Chief Warrant Officer 3, CW3 Travis Chance, US Army, assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum, NY. My job is to function as a liaison between the Army and the other services when a fire mission is conducted. A fire mission generally means artillery fire, or more likely bombs from a plane are going to be dropped.
The fire missions are requested by US Forces or our allies to support their operation. As a result the people requesting the fire support are always in close proximity to the explosions. My job is to make sure the bombs or shells fall where they are suppose to and not on friendly forces or innocent civilians. This means I have to be up close and personal with what is happening.
I have an uncle with the same name so there were times when it got confusing, as a result I ended up with a nickname. Because there are two Travis Chances’, and I am the second one, my older brother started calling me ‘Deuce’ and it stuck.
As I just said, I never attributed a positive or negative occurrence to luck. That is until yesterday. We should be dead but providence interceded and spared our lives. It wasn’t training or combat experience that saved mine and Sgt. Hanson’s life, it was luck and a lot of love.
I am married to a wonderful woman named Tracie, and have a seven year old son named Wyatt. My wife was an ‘Army Brat’, an accepted term for the dependent children of army personnel. It certainly made things easier on our marriage because Tracie knew very well the sacrifices that would be made.
This is my second tour in three years. Not much has changed in the year and a half since I was in Iraq. We have a little more control over Baghdad and other areas but it is still very dangerous here. I was assigned to a combat support team located on a FOB, Forward Operating Base, just north of Baghdad but will travel where ever my mission takes me.
I received my orders about a month before I would be deployed and wanted to spend as much time as I could with family and friends. I was discussing my impending deployment with Tracie when Wyatt came home from school.
“Mom, dad I’m home.” Wyatt always had a smile on his face. He had an infectious personality; other kids just kind of gravitated toward Wyatt. He is outgoing, witty and always tries to see good in people. Adults often think Wyatt is older, by a few years. He is a bit above average in size but wise and mature beyond his age. My mother saw how aware of his surroundings Wyatt seemed to be at the moment of birth and said he had an ‘old soul’. Mom is a little superstitious.
“Hey All Pro, who were you on the way home from school today?” Wyatt loves football, any level of football, but his favorite is the NFL. Wyatt and two of his best friends, Mike and Kim, who are siblings, always walk home together. Wyatt and Mike pretend they are a famous quarterback and wide receiver and throw a football around during the walk home.
“I was Eli Manning and Mike was Randy Moss.”
“Well Eli, congratulations on your recent Super Bowl win.”
“Thanks dad, I mean young man. Would you like my autograph?”
“Sure, you can sign the football right after you clean your room.”
“Aw, Mike and a few of the guys are waiting for me at the park. I bet Eli Manning doesn’t clean his own room.”
“Well Wyatt, I bet Eli Manning doesn’t still live with his mom. Here’s a suggestion. Tell mom you will do an extra good job when you come back if she lets you go out.”
With no more than a little effort Wyatt could always charm his mother and grandmother, so he was off to the park. Tracie and I feel blessed that my mother lives with us. My mom helps in so many ways, particularly when I am away.
Wyatt is a big New York Giants fan and has a Manning jersey. He had the jersey on when they won their first playoff game. Mom said that he had to wear the jersey for the rest of the playoff games to bring them luck. He did, and as a result Wyatt feels, in some small way, he helped the Giants win the Super Bowl.
We live on post so all the kids Wyatt plays with have a parent in the Army. Wyatt came home just as dinner was ready, an uncanny ability he has.
“You are just in time for dinner Wyatt.”
“Good, I am so hungry dad.
We were eating dinner and Wyatt was a little subdued, which is definitely out of character for him.
“Wyatt you tired out from running around with that football?”
“A little bit, but I was talking Mike Hanson, Sgt Hanson’s son. He said his dad is going back to Iraq. Do you have to go back too dad?”
News travels fast on the post, especially when it’s about deployment. “I just got my orders this afternoon Wyatt. Mom and I were going to tell you after dinner.”
Wyatt was only four when I went to Iraq the first time so he didn’t really understand why I was leaving. He is almost eight now and certainly understands what is going on. He also is aware of the risk a soldier faces in Iraq.
There was a lot to do the month before deployment, so the time went by fast. Everything was packed, personal business completed so we got the weekend off but were restricted to the post. Tracie and I wanted to spend Sunday with our family and close friends. We had a barbeque for 50 of the best people we know.
The cookout was a great success. Everyone enjoyed it and I spent the last two hours saying goodbye to people I love. I planned on saying goodbye to Tracie, mom and Wyatt in the morning. This was the hardest part of leaving.
I had a 1:00 formation so we decided on a casual brunch. I spent some time alone with mom and then Tracie, just talking. Wyatt was in his room playing video games when I walked in.
“Wyatt, you want to go out back and throw the football around?”
“I’ll go out back but I don’t want to play catch dad.”
In the back yard we sat down on two lawn chairs out from the night before. I knew something was on Wyatt’s mind. For a few moments we just sat there and then I broke the silence.
“Mom and grandma are going to need your help while I’m gone Wyatt.”
“I know dad, I’ll make sure my room is always clean. How long will you be gone?”
“About a year, maybe a little more but it will go by fast.”
“Is it going to be dangerous where you are going dad?”
“I’m not going to lie to you buddy, it will be a little bit. The Army takes good care of us so I am sure I will be ok.”
“I have something for you. Grandma said to wait until now to give it to you.”
“That’s real nice of you Wyatt.”
Wyatt reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a penny and handed it to me, with a real serious look on his face.
“When we were walking out of church last Sunday I found this penny in the parking lot. It was made the same year I was born. Grandma said if you find a penny, pick it up and you will have good luck, so I did.”
“Thank you Wyatt.”
“I asked grandma if I gave you the penny would the luck transfer to you. She said yes it would because I am giving it with love. I want you to keep this lucky penny with you the whole time you are gone dad.”
“I will Wyatt; it will be with me everywhere I go.”
“You promise dad?”
“I promise Wyatt, and you know I never break a promise.”
“I know dad.” That was the first time I saw him smile in days.
Sgt Hanson and I were a part of the advanced party and landed in Baghdad four days after we left. I knew where I was as soon as the air hit me. This city has a very distinct smell.
I have known Sgt Jacob Hanson for years. His son Mike and Wyatt are good friends. Depending on the situation I addressed my friend as Sergeant Hanson and he addressed me as Chief Chance, as in Chief Warrant Officer Chance. When we were alone or with friends it was Jake and Deuce.
It was almost two weeks before the rest of the unit and our equipment got to the sandbox, a term Jake used to describe Iraq. Once we were squared away we started getting missions. Jake and I were going out with a company that would be sweeping an area up north. Their mission was to look for insurgents that were operating in that area.
We usually went out with the scout/sniper platoon to determine possible locations of the enemy and find a defendable area where we could operate from. We found a very small village that was mostly abandoned and radioed a message to the company commander. Several hours later the rest of the company reached the village.
Jake and I found a small house about a hundred feet from a cluster of five other little buildings where we could keep our gear and sleep. The next morning Jake, I and a squad from the scout platoon went out in Humvees looking for bad guys.
Jake is much less skeptical than me and wears his ‘lucky’ hat in the field. It became lucky when a bullet creased his helmet. The helmet was no longer useable but the hat he was wearing under it was.
“Hey Duce, you got that lucky penny with you?”
“Roger that Jake, it’s with me everywhere but the shower.”
“What if you fall in the shower? Don’t complain to me,” Jake said as he was laughing.
“How about your lucky hat Jake, you wearing it?”
“It’s with me everywhere I go, including the shower.”
We both were laughing pretty hard by then. We laughed partially because it was funny and to break the tension we always felt when going out.
It wasn’t long before we made contact. Second platoon was fully engaged with about 40 to 50 well armed insurgents and needed assistance. Jake pointed the Humvee down the road and we were moving quickly. When we arrived second platoon had established a firm fighting position and was returning fire. We got there just in time because the bad guys were now using mortars.
Shells were falling close to our position. I called in a fire mission and two attack jets were on site in minutes. I ‘painted’ the enemy with a lazar light and the area where the mortar fire was coming from exploded; dirt flew fifty feet in the air. When the dust settled the insurgents were nowhere to be found.
We made it back to our position safely and looked forward to food and sleep. Our position was well guarded and we hoped the night would be quiet. Jake and I ate and we both wrote a few letters. We felt comfortable enough to take off our gear and boots to sleep. A little before dawn small arms fire close by woke us up.
“Hey Deuce, they are playing our song, lets go dance.”
We both put on our boots and quickly grabbed our gear and went outside. Jake was already opening up the driver’s side door. I opened the passenger door and threw my gear in the back. Just as I was about to get in I remembered I had forgot something very important. I turned around and started running back to the house.
Jake yelled “Where are you going?”
The house was about fifty feet from where the humvee was parked. Before I went to sleep I emptied my pockets and put my compass, pocket knife and the ‘lucky penny’ on a window sill.
I yelled back, “I forgot my good luck penny!” I was maybe, twenty feet from the house when I answered. Jake didn’t hear me and ran around the front of the Humvee, toward me.
“What, what’s wrong?” Jake was about thirty feet from our vehicle and I was near the doorway of the house when an RPG, Rocket Propelled Grenade slammed into the driver’s side door where Jake was standing five seconds before.
The explosion was loud and violent. It knocked Jake in the air and he landed ten feet away from where he was. The blast pushed me against the door and into the house. The Humvee flipped over once and landed on the passenger side.
I ran back out to where Jake he was. The Humvee shielded both of us from the blast. Jake was trying to get up when I got to him.
“Jake, are you injured?”
“I think I’m ok.”
“Oh my god Deuce, if you didn’t remember you left the lucky penny in the house and run back for it we would be dead right now”
“I know Jake.” He managed to get up with my help and we hugged each other.
Jake was bleeding from several small shrapnel wounds but other wise was in good shape. When I got pushed through the door I hurt my arm and shoulder.
“Deuce, do you think we used up all the luck in that penny.”
I looked at him and we started laughing. I said, “No, not this penny.”
We were evacuated back to a field hospital for treatment. The doctor put us on bed rest for a week. No duty, nice.
I was able to call Tracie two days later. I didn’t give to many details but told her the ‘luck penny’ worked.