From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

Sergeant Mills

Mercy to the vanquished is the brightest gem in a soldier’s character.

Duke of York, order of the day
during the campaign in Flanders, 1794

Sergeant Gary Mills was a bulldozer operator from North Pole, Alaska (really), serving with Bravo Company, 299th Engineer Battalion as part of the 24th Infantry Division.

During Desert Storm, he was escorting a military dozer north into Iraq on a flatbed truck when soft sand caused the rig to go off the road. The flatbed—dozer and all— toppled over. Sergeant Mills wasn’t hurt, but the convoy he was following moved on without him. Mills decided the best thing he could do is stay with the downed vehicle, guarding it until more U.S. Armed Forces came along, or his convoy missed him and sent someone back.

While he waited, a sandstorm began to blow and visibility became very poor. To get relief from the stinging, blowing sand and to get away from the dozer in case it got hit by traffic (or worse), Mills took shelter in a foxhole he found nearby. When at last the storm began to die down, Sergeant Mills could hear voices. They weren’t speaking English.

He peeked out of the foxhole and saw seven Iraqi soldiers. They were armed. He ducked back into the hole. His position wasn’t easy to spot and chances were good they would pass by without noticing it. Outnumbered seven to one, hiding seemed like a reasonable thing to do, but as he crouched in the foxhole, Sergeant Mills didn’t feel good about it.

He almost let them walk by. But then he thought about their AK-47s. If someone gets hurt, he thought, it will be my fault. I won’t be able to live with myself.

Gathering his courage, he popped up out of the foxhole and said the only Arabic word he knew, “Qif! (Stop!)” The seven stopped. Apparently, it didn’t occur to them that there would be just one American soldier all alone in the middle of the desert. Surely, there must be at least a platoon. They put down their weapons and raised their hands.

The American was now faced with a tricky situation. It wouldn’t take long for the Iraqis to figure out he was alone. In fact, the next minute, the leader of the group said something in Arabic and raised his thumb, as if to say “There’s just one of you?” The American kept his M-16 pointed at them and his finger on the trigger. Using his left hand, he raised his thumb, smiled, and nodded yes.

The dumbfounded look on the Iraqi’s face was almost comical.

But Mills had no time to laugh. One soldier with seven prisoners is awkward, at best. In the movies, this would never happen. There would be a fight and all seven of the enemy would shoot at him, but miss. The American would gun down six of the soldiers, then fight the last guy (the leader) hand to hand. Right. But this was no movie.

Using gestures, Sergeant Mills had them move away from their weapons and ordered them to empty their pockets. He discovered that the Iraqis had pilfered his lunch and his water bottles from the overturned dozer. The seven looked frightened when he discovered the theft. The Iraqi Army had been thoroughly indoctrinated about the heartlessness and barbaric actions of the infidels from the West. The soldiers expected he would kill them.

What they had taken from the dozer didn’t amount to much: a few partial MREs (meals ready to eat: the standard Army ration) and a couple of bottles of water. Not much of a feed for seven soldiers. As Sergeant Mills took a closer look at the men, he saw what a pitiful lot they were. Their uniforms didn’t match and weren’t complete. They didn’t even have on helmets. Their gas masks were cheap and flimsy. They were thin and looked tired and hungry.

At gunpoint, Sergeant Mills marched them to his dozer, opened a locked compartment, and took out the rest of his MREs and water. These he gave to his prisoners.

One of the soldiers was so moved by this gesture, he slowly got up and walked over to Mills, who had his M-16 leveled and his finger on the trigger. Walking right up to the muzzle of the M-16, the Iraqi slowly reached out, took Gary Mills’s face in his hands and kissed him on both cheeks.

It didn’t take the convoy long to realize they were missing a vehicle. The radios were alive with talk about a guy who had been left behind, and help was sent back immediately. The sandstorm slowed things up, but soon an Airborne colonel leading an armed force arrived. They could only shake their heads in amazement that one guy, a dozer operator, had captured seven prisoners.

In the distance, some medical evacuation helicopters had landed and the Americans turned the captives over to them. Smiling and waving good-bye, the Iraqis climbed into the choppers to be flown to a prisoner-of-war camp. As Mills watched them board, one of them turned, put his hands together, gave a slight bow, and in heavily accented English, said, “Thank you.”

No, it definitely hadn’t gone like it would have in the movies—and for that, Sergeant Mills was grateful and relieved.

John D. Governale

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