It is one way to keep your worried parents informed about your progress as a serving US soldier in the maelstrom of Afghanistan, though arguably not the most compassionate.
Stephen Phillips was out on patrol when his Army 546th MP company became embroiled in a battle with insurgents. Amid the confusion, he somehow hit the redial button on his cellphone and called the Oregon home number of his mother, Sadie, and stepfather, Jeff Petee.
Several thousand kilometers away the couple were returning home from the shops.
They were in somber mood as they had just been to buy flowers to mark the first anniversary of the death of Stephen’s best friend, who had been killed in action in Iraq.
As they came in the door they noticed the answer machine flashing, which was unusual as people rarely left messages. They thought the cat must have stepped on it, until they pressed play.
They instantly recognized Phillips’ voice, which was heartwarming until they heard him swearing with abandon. That was followed by the distinct sound of gunfire.
They could hear shots ringing out in steady succession, then a pause, then more shots and rapid automatic fire.
During the course of the three-minute tape the couple listened to hundreds of shots and ammunition rounds. Toward the end of the recording someone screamed out: “We need some more ammo! More ammo!”
Phillips could be heard calling for a new barrel, as his one had got so hot the sight was going red.
Finally, just before the recording ended and the answer machine went dead, the chilling words: “Incoming! Incoming! RPG.”
“We were completely shocked,” Jeff Petee told a local radio station. “My wife thought those were the last words of her kid in a fire-fight.”
It took them two hours of frantic dialling of Phillips’ mobile phone before they got through to him. He and all his company were fine and they realized the recording had been made by accident.
“That was one heck of a message to get from your son in Afghanistan,” Petee said.
Phillips is feeling rather put out.
“Oh great,” he told his stepfather. “I’m out here in the middle of a fire-fight and you’re back at home getting famous for it.”
He’s also sheepish. When he was played the recording back over the phone, he was mortified by all the swearing.
“Please don’t let Grandma hear it,” he implored.