Guns Save Life has remarkable speakers each month.  This was our speaker in October 2011’s meeting.  Guns Save Life meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Knights of Columbus in Rantoul.  (See calendar to the right for more information)

Main Speaker #1

Justin Bawcum


May 1, 2009 was a day that changed Justin Bawcum’s life and he noted that it was exactly two years to the day before we whacked Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Mr. Bawcum was a young Recon Sniper stationed in the remote hills of Afghanistan, tasked with providing intelligence and fire support against Taliban Islamic extremists.

Early that morning, the communications people had picked up enemy transmissions indicating an attack might be imminent.

“Move up on OP,” the enemy said.

The Americans thought they Taliban were either feigning an attack to establish whether the Americans could hear them, or that the Taliban were moving up on a new OP under construction another half-mile up the mountainside, so they didn’t immediately go on full alert.

A close-up of the panel. The rag in the upper left-hand corner is a keffiyeh that it’s former owner no longer has a use for.


It was about an hour before sunrise and Justin said he saw tracers coming in from one of the positions known for enemy attacks in the past.

“They often use the same spots to shoot at us – and they kept coming back to those same spots, so we did a lot of recon of them on them.”

While his buddies in the tent tried to wolf down an MRE before going out, Justin said he had a feeling this attack was different, especially as tracers were coming in close.

He said he threw on his armor, including his heavy SAPI ceramic panels which he didn’t usually wear and hustled outside.

It turns out, the Taliban guerillas were shooting from six different locations with .51 caliber heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles.

Not long after, the suicide bombers charged the perimeter.  The Americans fired their very effective Claymore mines to repel the assault.  However, earlier in the night, the enemy snuck up close and turned all of the American Claymores inward, causing the good guys problems when they were fired.

The not-so-bright Taliban serving as suicide bombers managed to detonate their vests at the perimeter wall and push over some of the barricades to allow the smarter (in relative terms) Taliban to infiltrate the camp in the confusion.

The enemy also began firing mortars that were already dialed in on the camp from earlier attacks.  These took out the main ammo supply point in the camp.  “That basically took out our mortars, too.”

Smoke and chaos permeated the camp as the Taliban pressed their relentless attack.

The chaos was made worse when a number of the Afghan National Army troops in the camp turned on the Americans.  “We had several ANA who turned against us and had to be put down, including the cook.”

As the attack progressed, the order was given to abandon the camp and head down the mountain to the larger base camp there.

Bawcum said he was running through the fatal funnel at the only entrance to the camp, “when this little Taliban guy pops up from behind a rock and opens up on me.”  The bad guy was only about 12 yards away and he came up blazing.

Justin Bawcum, foreground, puts the hurt on some Taliban.

“I didn’t register that he had hit me until after I shot his jaw off.  He was standing there, holding his face, looking for his jaw on the ground when I shot him some more before I fell off the side of the mountain.”

While the wonderful Interceptor Armor had worked perfectly to protect him from the AK rounds, he injured his back in the fall.  Mr. Bawcum estimated the fall might have been as far as fifty feet down.

“It screwed up my back when I landed.”  In reality, that vest probably saved his life yet again.

It wasn’t until later that Justin and his comrades noticed his ceramic armor plate had absorbed a remarkable seven hits, saving Justin’s life seven times over.

“I’ve heard of guys who died from three hits when the third round got through,” he explained.

“I got real lucky.”

Bawcum showed off the shemagh worn by his attacker, one of the souvenirs brought back that day, along with the remains of the SAPI plate that saved him.  “He had no further use for it.”

Once he got back at the base camp, he shed his vest and returned with reinforcements to rescue any friendlies remaining at the camp and recover American bodies.  Initially, they weren’t going to let an injured soldier go back, but Bawcum was set upon returning.  “I was going back there and nobody was going to stop me,” he said.

In the end, four of his fellow Americans weren’t so lucky.  They and a number of Latvian troops along with roughly 36 ANA were killed inside the camp that day.  One of the Americans, a sergeant, was bayoneted in the back of the neck by some of the Taliban savages who were video-taping the entire attack.

That video has ended up on YouTube as a recruiting tool for Muslims considering fighting Americans and other infidels.

The Taliban even sent a link to the video to Justin’s email account, which led to the arrest of the interpreter for their group.  “I thought he was a good guy too.  I learned you just can’t trust anyone there except your fellow Americans.”

Before talking about that fateful day, he discussed some of his training as a sniper and how the two-man teams operated.

“There was a lot of polical B.S.,” he said.  “We couldn’t shoot anyone until they were shooting at you.”

Much of his time was spent drawing range cards with information like known distances to landmarks and so forth.

His primary weapon for his craft was an M24 7.62×51 precision shooting rifle (with Leupold Mark IV glass on top) and he was also issued an M14 to provide a greater volume of fire upon the enemy during certain missions.

“There ain’t no ‘short distances’ there,” he said, noting that his furthest confirmed kill was 824 meters.

Following a standing ovation, he reminded everyone to keep those still over there in their thoughts and prayers.

He answered a few more questions and received another standing ovation before retiring.

2 thoughts on “Luckiest man alive: Justin Bawcum takes seven AK rounds and lives to talk about it”
  1. Thank you, Sir, for fighting for, and taking seven rounds of enemy fire, for me, my family, and our country. You are truly a hero deserving of the Medal Of Honor, although if things go as per usual, I’d be disappointed with anything less than a Silver Star. Thank you for your service. I salute you.

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