Dispatches From Iraq: Second Chances

Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.

A couple weeks ago, Lt. Col. Fred Johnson told me a story about Gen. David Petraeus.

Back when Lt. Col. Johnson was Capt. Johnson, and Gen. Petraeus was Col. Petraeus, Col. Petraeus was Capt. Johnson’s new commander.

They were doing a live-fire exercise at a range at Fort Campbell when a young soldier named Spc. Terrence Jones tripped and accidentally fired his weapon while conducting an assault.

The bullet from Spc. Jones’ weapon struck Col. Petraeus, slamming through his chest and taking a piece of his back on the way out. Petraeus fell to the ground, bleeding out of his mouth. He nearly died. We could have lost one of the most important and influential military leaders in generations to a mistake, to a professional misstep.

The best that Capt. Johnson and Spc. Jones might have hoped for was a painless end to their military service. I asked Lt. Col. Fred Johnson about the story of his own soldier shooting David Petraeus, and I asked how it could be that Johnson was still in the military.

Johnson looked me in the eye and said something like, “Mike. You know what Petraeus did?”

“What?” I asked.

“He gave me a second chance.”

Fred Johnson actually got picked up for promotion early.

Click here to read the full dispatch from Michael Yon in Iraq.

“But what happened to the young soldier?” I asked, thinking surely there had to be a consequence.

Conventional wisdom stipulates that for balance to be restored after accidentally shooting and nearly killing a superior officer, a sacrifice of some magnitude is necessary. A soldier just can’t shoot a commander in the chest and walk away.

There is no such thing as an “accidental discharge.” Unplanned bullet launches are called “negligent discharges.” As in negligent homicide.

Lt. Col. Johnson answered something like, “Mike, you won’t believe how Jones was punished. Petraeus sent Jones to Ranger School.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! That’s a punishment that a lot of young soldiers dream about, even though Ranger School is a very difficult course.

But after thinking on it awhile, I realized it probably explains why Lt. Col. Johnson sometimes says, “I believe in second chances.”

Fred Johnson said it just the other day. He said it to me: “When someone gives you a second chance, you should pass it along.”

Click here to read the full dispatch from Michael Yon in Iraq.


Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.