On the morning of May 18, Norman Kiunga wore his uniform, carried a Negev rifle and a pistol and joined his Kenya Defence Forces and Border Patrol Unit colleagues on a security watch.
President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected at Lamu Port two days later and the team based at Boni Forest was on a mission to prevent any threats by al Shabaab militants.
The team had intelligence reports that the militants had been sighted in the area and were planning an attack ahead of Uhuru’s visit.
As the convoy snaked its way along the Bodhei–Kiunga road in Baure area, one of their vehicles ran over an Improvised Explosive Devise and was blown up.
In the ensuing confusion, the militants started shooting at the contingent of the Kenyan security officers. Six officers lost their lives and several others were injured.
As the suspected militants sprayed their convoy with bullets, Kiunga escaped to safety in a nearby thicket. He realised later that he had been shot in the hand and thigh.
It marked the start of Kiunga’s 17-day ordeal in the expansive Boni Forest. The forest stretches to Somalia and teems with elephants, buffalo, bush-pig, bush-buck, caracal among other wild animals.
With his backpack filled with water, food, medical kit and bush essentials, Kiunga ran until he could not go anymore and stopped under a tree to dress his wounds. He spent the night there in excruciating pain.
Meanwhile, six other officers who had taken cover in the bush and were initially thought to have been killed found their way to their camp hours later.
Occasionally, Kiunga could hear gunshots, which sent shivers down his spine. But he kept on moving. He wandered and at times could see the Indian Ocean.
As the days went by, Kiunga depleted his supplied food ration. When nothing was left, he ate wild fruits to survive the more than two weeks in the forest.
Several days later, he found a river where he took his time to bathe and refresh.
“I would encounter wild animals and some people, but I did not trust any of them. I took refuge and hid from them. My training contributed much to my experience and endurance,” he said from his hospital bed in Nairobi.
The most threatening moment for Kiunga was when following the river path upwards, he encountered about 30 militants bathing.
Kiunga climbed and hid on top of a tree and waited for the group to clear.
He was certain the river would take him to his camp or a police station, as most public and private amenities are built along the river.
With his wounds still sore, he walked upstream to Basuba GSU camp on June 2 where his colleagues were both shocked and overjoyed to see him. He was frail and emaciated.
Kiunga still had a bullet lodged in his right thigh and a wound near the elbow. The officer had his Negev rifle with no bullets and a pistol with 11 bullets.
In the days after he had run out of bullets for his rifle and had only his pistol, he kept praying that he meets no armed adversary.
After he resurfaced at the station, he was attended by medical teams before he was evacuated to Nairobi for further attention.
In Nairobi, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and Deputy Inspector General of Police Noor Gabow visited him at the hospital where they congratulated him for his experience.
“As usual we expected such attacks to happen but what followed was a really hard experience,” Kiunga said.
The officials also talked to several other recuperating officers there.
“Their sacrifices are oftentimes not understated, but our police officers are always in the line of fire protecting us and our country. Our get-well wishes and prayers go out to all the uniformed men and women nursing injuries sustained while on duty,” Matiang’I said.
Sources said the team in the hospital and brought in from different operational zones has been recommended for promotion.
Baure, where Kiunga and his team was attacked is near the Kenya-Somalia border which has been under sporadic incursions by the militants.
The operation dubbed Linda Boni began in 2015 under a multi-agency security team to flush out al Shabaab militants hiding there and using it for attacks.
In April, two people were killed in the area when a lorry they were travelling in ran over a similar IED.
The two were part of a team constructing the border wall that is aimed at stopping the militants from crossing into and out of Kenya.
The Kenya-Somalia border securitisation project is among others meant to secure the country from attacks by al Shabaab.
The project includes designated immigration and custom entry points with a two-foot-tall concrete wall fitted with CCTV cameras. Trenches are also being constructed in the area.
Officials say once complete, the teams will be spread 40 kilometres apart to enable quick response to attacks from militants.
The fence especially in Mandera and Lamu has helped reduce incidents of attacks by the militants.
Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi into Somalia on October 14, 2011, after gunmen kidnapped tourists at the Coast.
The government then declared al Shabaab a threat to Kenya’s sovereignty.