› My Story
As most of you already know, I was involved in grenade attack while serving in the army. Again, most of you already have a good understanding about what happened. For those of you who don't, here ya go. Here's a little bit of the back-story.
I joined the army in 2002 and went to basic training for 14 weeks; it consisted of nine weeks of standard basic training, then five weeks just tacked on to the end for my infantry training. Then I was off to airborne school for another three weeks. While in jump school, I received orders from the army telling me I was going to be stationed in South Korea for a year long tour.
As I was ending my tour in South Korea, I received orders to Fort Campbell in Kentucky. So after I got home from Korea, I was given thirty days to spend at home. When I reported to Fort Campbell, I was first sent to a processing platoon to receive my new army gear and what not. After a week I was told I would be going to 1/502nd infantry. My new unit had already been deployed to Iraq, so after I reported and was processed, I was told that since I had just completed a yearlong tour overseas, I was entitled to a 6-month guarantee to stay in the states. I explained that I didn't want to do that, at all. I'd much rather meet up with my unit over in Iraq than sit in the states, partying when I was off duty. In my eyes, one day in combat with a fellow soldier will replace a years worth of training, because in that one day, our lives are in each others hands. I cannot describe how that impacts your life.
Anyway, back to the story. I waived my 6 months and was issued all my gear. I was deployed to Iraq on November 12, 2003. Once in Iraq, I met up with my new unit around November 20th. My unit was about six or seven months into their year long tour when I met up with them. For a few days I was a driver. After about a week of that, they decided even though I was the newest to the war, I had more experience than most of the guys in my platoon, due to the yearlong training in Korea. It was decided I would serve best as a gunner. An important side note: A few days before the attack, I had asked our arms room guy about getting issued an M9 9mm pistol, standard for most gunners. He tells me not to worry about it, "You'll never need it."
So here comes December 8th. Now we were escorting a platoon of troops that were on foot, which meant we were driving slowly. The road set up was a two lane divided highway, a median in the middle. We had four trucks: two going with traffic, one in each lane to maintain control of the traffic; and two in the same lane going against traffic. I was in the last truck going against traffic. For those who can visualize this, we were in oncoming traffic's right lane, and I was facing the rear of the truck. This meant all the oncoming traffic was driving past my truck, with traffic was flowing on MY left side. Another thing you need to know is that our front passenger door was taken off so the occupant could angle his body more out the door for quicker response time in case shit hit the fan.
I'm just busy watching the road, looking especially where the road meets any sidewalk; trash piles can be used as cover for roadside bombs. As were driving down the road, there were people in the median area just sort of hanging out, two guys just chillin' with a hookah… we found this humorous. No sooner am I laughing after seeing the guys getting their smoke on, then BOOMMM! "What the hell was that?" I thought as my mind started racing through the possibilities of what just happened. "Was that a roadside bomb? Was it a grenade? What's next? Is that it?" Now something you need to understand is that loud explosions and random booming is a regular and frequent occurrence. I drifted back to the situation at hand.
"Oh shit. I can't feel my legs."
It's at that time that I realized that the boom happened in my truck. As I tried to figure out what happened, I thought to myself, "oh my God... that WAS a grenade..." and before I could finish thinking that, a new thought came flooding into my mind..."I doubt I have legs any more." It was a disgusting feeling. I believe it to be the actual worst feeling I've ever experienced in my life.
As I sit here typing this, I am constantly bombarded with all these thoughts and pieces. I'm trying to think of how to put in words what it felt like. The only thing I can think of is that aside from the haze I was in, the smoke and ringing, it felt like... imagine your entire body were to fall asleep… not like getting some shut eye, but like when you sit on your foot for too long... THAT feeling. Now imagine that your whole body is "asleep" and then imagine someone hits you in the legs with a sledgehammer.
It was my new goal to see if I had legs remaining after the blast. I composed myself and decided I needed to go from standing to sitting, as soon as possible. I pushed myself up so that I was sitting on the roof of the truck, my legs now dangling in the hatch where I had stood. I looked down to assess the damage, but all I could see was smoke. It was at this time a new feeling of concern hit me. "If someone just threw a grenade at me, there's a damn good chance they will have no problems shooting at me." I noticed that I couldn't reach my machine gun and I couldn't rotate my turret to fire any kind of rounds. Basically, I was just a huge target sitting atop of this newly disabled vehicle. I'm not in a good place.
It became my new mission to get off the truck, but I was faced with a new dilemma. I found that as opposed to just falling off the truck to a safer location, my arm would rather get caught in the turret cover; this cover folds in half and sits in a sandwiched position while the gunner is in the truck. I had to just throw myself off the roof of the truck to the road. When I landed on the street, I realized I was in between the enemy and my truck, with no weapon.
There I was. No gun. No cover. No protection whatsoever. And I'm still not quite sure what the hell happened to me. I'm lying there and I can't really hear anything or feel anything. I'm in shock, but I'm fully aware of my surroundings: it was a terrifying feeling. I felt trapped in my own body. I have tunnel vision: all I see is the black sky and tracer rounds that are flying overhead. I later found out from my guys that the bullets started flying over my head as I was falling to the ground. I'm face up, thinking of how I'm going to be killed, as I just lay there helpless. No sooner did I think that, I realized my truck crew was dragging me to the safe side of the truck.
It was literally the largest weight of the world taken off my shoulders. At least now I had a better chance of living through this ordeal, regardless of whether I keep my legs. It was a miracle that this attack happened while escorting a platoon of soldiers on foot; they always travel with a medic. Within minutes, he came up to me and started his assessment. I was lying there looking up at some stranger, knowing my life is in his hands. Immediately, an unspoken trust and respect for one another was established. He cut my pants and took a good look at my legs: I could feel his shock and panic. It was at this time that I decided not to look at my legs and just look at my crew and others and focus on them. I didn't panic, I didn't cry, I didn't scream. I just looked at the medic and said, "Hey man, here's the deal. I'm not fading out on you. I am making this conscious decision to try to sleep so that I don't have to feel this pain." He smiled and replied, "Sounds like a plan. I'll take care of this." I smiled, laid my head back and closed my eyes. Within a couple minutes, I was shaken and opened my eyes. Somehow, in the midst of all this, my First Sergeant was on the spot, taking care of me.
I was rather impressed. Here was his attempt at calming me down: "Hey buddy… look at the bright side: Now you get to go home and see your family." I laughed. "I just got here and was looking forward to staying a while." All of the sudden I felt a horrible pain shoot through my thigh. It was so painful that it pulled me out of shock, enough to where I was no longer in a daze and now just in horrid pain. As it turns out, that pain was the winching down of the pressure dressing the medic was applying to one of my wounds. This was the one step prior to applying a tourniquet. My First Sergeant tried again. "Hey guy, what's my first name?" again trying to take my mind off this torture. I replied, "Umm, First Sergeant, I just got here. I don't know you well enough yet… so I guess your first name is… first sergeant? Ha-ha… that's what I know to be your first name." Everyone laughed. Another few minutes passed and before I knew it, I was being lifted off of the ground and onto the stretcher to be taken to the ambulance. Well, it was my natural instinct to help them lift me by pushing with my leg that was hanging over the side of the stretcher. Unbeknownst to me, I have a compound fracture; my broken bone was sticking out of my pants. That started another wave of pain.
I was lifted into the ambulance and the new medic starts taking my vitals on the way to our combat army support hospital (CASH). The driver was haulin' ass on the way back and every time he knew a jostle or turn was on its way, he yelled it out so we could anticipate and brace ourselves. So I was listening to the medic in the back asking me all my info, and in the background, "LEFT TURN!!!.... RAILROAD TRACKS!!!... RIGHT TURN!!!!" Then the medic asked if I had any allergies. I couldn't help myself. If you know me at all, you know I'm extremely optimistic and always happy. So my smart ass said, "Nope no allergies, but I DO have a bad reaction to grenades." At first they were in shock, that after having a grenade blow through and break both my legs, I could be sarcastic. Everyone laughed.
We arrived at CASH... imagine M*A*S*H*, but with up to date technology and equipment. I was wheeled in and immediately rushed to the ER. I was surrounded by people cutting my clothes off, rattling off questions, sticking needles in my arm, and taking my vitals again. So I naturally covered myself up with my hands. I could hear all the descriptions of my wounds being declared. It was some scary shit. I could see that my hand is really interfering with things, so I'm like, "Ya know what, at least I still have something for you to check out." So I was laughing. Then they told me that they have to roll me to one side to check my back for wounds. This was partly true. What they failed to mention was that while they were back there, they also checked for bleeding and hemorrhaging, but to make it more fun, didn't tell the patient.
So I was on my side and all of the sudden some young kid in scrubs scars me for life and steals my innocence. Again, I understand that its procedure and not creepy, so what do I say? "Dinner and a movie would have been nice first." Again, the shock hit the medics; they saw my smile and started laughing. They had to focus and get back to fixin' me up, but had tears in their eyes from laughing. So we were all in a jolly mood and then I heard a new wound being announced. "Ummm… we have bleeding from the groin." I freaked out. The laughter ceased and I went into a whirling dervish of dirty words basically saying how much I'd love for my fellow soldiers to go avenge my attack. And to top it all off, they had to give me a catheter. I love my life.
I then decided its now time to pull the "I'm gonna sleep" routine.
Well it works.
I woke up in a room full of other soldiers that have been attacked. I was bandaged up and heavily medicated. I felt around my collar, looking for my scripture engraved necklace my mom gave to me when she saw me off. It was gone! I immediately called for a nurse and asked for the necklace. She went off and retrieved my personal belongings that were being stored in a trash bag. I found my necklace and put it on. Then I went through my things and realized that the two portable flash drives that were in my pocket were gone. I can only hope that the grenade ruined them and that someone didn't steal them. I then thought to ask if there's a way I could call home. I was told that I could, so I called my home to tell my mom that I was ok. Apparently while I was sleeping the army had already contacted her, three hours prior to my phone call.
I told her that I was ok, not really knowing my condition. She was strong for me. She was a nurse in the army, a major at that, and was very interested in the details of my injury… well, that's most of what I remember saying to her. It was all a daze from the trauma/shock/morphine. So I'm in this room for a while when I realize I cant piss in the bottle that they give me. My bladder feels like it's going to explode, but I just can't move things along. I'm not sure why they removed my catheter. So I hang my head in shame and ask the nurse for a catheter.
While the nurse is getting things set up, I remember they said, "bleeding from the groin." So I asked, "Listen man, I know this is weird, but I need to know... how bad is the damage downstairs? Is it a huge scar?" he replied, "Oh no, that's really small." So here I went again… Mr. funny man. "No no no… I'm asking how big the SCAR is!" Again the whole room busted up laughing.
I had a bit of time before I flew out of the country to Germany for some operations. I was laying there and in walks my platoon of guys. Immediately, "I'm a fu%&ing trooper, hooah!" They smiled and came over to see how I was doing. They brought me a gift pack of all my really important stuff from my bunk area. This included my cds and cd player, pictures of family and friends, and some other stuff. I smiled.
Our lieutenant was a complete tool. I say this because a) I've heard him speak/watched him think out-loud. b) For the first few days I was with my crew, I was a driver and he was my passenger. We had a cargo hummer with no gunner. He was my only line of defense while I was driving. This guy would be sitting next to me at 2:46 AM while I drove and would drift off to sleep. How rude. I mean its one thing to do in the states while training… but in combat? So I just brake-checked the car and "accidentally", slamming his helmet into the dash. Not too rough. Just enough to say, "Hey ass.... wake up."
So the lieutenant was in the hospital room standing right next to me. I don't like this guy, so I'm thinking to myself, "Sir, you are the last motherf&$ker I wanna see right now." After I recovered and the guys all came back after finishing up the deployment, I went to meet them as they got back from the airfield. I saw the lieutenant gave him his salute and greeting… and he acted very odd. Well, more odd than normal. I went up to a friend and welcomed him back. Then I asked him what the lieutenant's problem was. Well, it turns out that comment above that I thought I was THINKING.... turned out to be what I actually said. Needless to say, the lieutenant and I finally understand each other.
While talking to the rest of the soldiers, I was able to hear a few details about what happened. All those tiny holes I had in my leg, well those were just a few of the pieces of shrapnel out of thousands. Now picture the windshield: it was covered in holes except for two unscratched patches of glass. That glass was shielded by my legs, which were in the right position to take the blast that could have killed my driver or my sergeant. The sergeant was unscathed and my driver only had a couple pieces of shrapnel hit him. He was treated, it was removed, and he went back to duty. Another interesting tidbit... whenever we were on patrol and driving slow, I would stand through the hatch in the ceiling of the humvee to man the guns. When we were cruising from A to B, I generally would sit on an extra ammo box. This ammo box happened to be filled with 70 or 75 grenades for my MK-19 grenade launcher… so I believe my legs were in the right spot, because had that box exploded, I would have been vaporized The blast was so strong that according to one of our other gunners, my humvee's tail end was lifted off the ground. That's impressive to me.
So they took off and wished me well.
I flew to Kuwait, and spent the night there for my early flight the next morning. Then it was off to Germany. While there, I got to see my legs fully exposed. They were peppered with tiny holes from the shrapnel. There were also a few large holes from the blast and from the bones sticking out. It wasn't that bad... definitely something I could deal with. Plus, now I had some really cool scars! So it was time to leave Germany and head back to the states.
It was a ten-hour flight and I was on a stretcher that was attached to the body of the plane so that I was stabilized. I had both legs fully casted up, and the cast came up under my butt just enough to be as uncomfortable as humanly possible. I was lying there almost in tears, when a flight nurse walked by. I asked her for some more meds and a pillow. She told me that she couldn't give me any meds. "Are you SERIOUS?" She said my chart wouldn't allow her. So I did the obvious thing and requested to speak with her higher-up. Well this person WAS allowed to, and did. So I was lying there, completely unable to sleep, and I noticed next to me was another wounded soldier who had a wedge under his back to give him an elevated position. So I had the nurse get one for me, and I fell asleep.
I woke up in a room at Andrews Air Force Base. It was my first of two stops before Fort Campbell (my home unit). I was on the phone with my mom while some guys were cleaning up and re-bandaging my wounds. We were talking and then I saw these four huge gaping holes in my legs. "Oh my God?! Is that my f&*king muscle?" And my mom started with her medical jargon, asking me all about it. "It looks as if they took a huge filet outta my leg", I told her. I was kind of freaking out, but almost more out of excitement. So the medic asked if I wanted to see something cool. I replied, "Of course." He told me to rotate my foot. I swear to God it was like watching the Discovery channel or one of those medical shows. It's just like what you would picture. It almost looked animated.
So I realized that while in Germany, they performed the surgeries that resulted in these huge scars. It was necessary to prevent amputation of my legs. Quick medical lesson: in between the muscle and the skin is a layer of saran wrap like material called fascia. When the saran wrap is flat, you can just tear right through it. But when its bundled up, it becomes very cord-like and stronger. Well, the fascia in my legs was bundling up and that was creating a tourniquet around my calves. So they had to remove all the skin to correct this problem. I say scars are much much better than losing a limb.
Back at Fort Campbell, the doctor had to perform a surgery where he took the fractured tibia in my left leg and realigned it, then inserted a titanium rod through the bone and secured it with four screws. He told me it would be two and a half years before I would walk again. I laughed inside, thinking to myself, "Yeah right buddy! I got things to do, people to see."
The attack was on the 8th of December. I spent Christmas in the hospital, listening to my mom sing in her Christmas choir back in my hometown via my friend holding her phone up for the entire service. It was distant but still comforting. I was discharged at the beginning of the New Year, and within 30 days of being back in the states, I went from bedridden, to barely able to sit up in bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches. I was ordered by my doctor to stop trying so hard. I scoffed. "I'll take it slower but I'm not quitting." So from there out, I finished my military career processing security clearances. I then was medically retired.
I moved back to Indiana, took it easy for a few years, went back to college. I withdrew when I found out the VA will pay for me to attend Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. I'm currently focusing on building my knowledge of music theory, technique, etc., and working on Heroes Meeting Heroes. Then off to L.A.
Please feel free to email me any comments or feelings to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.