Family and Friends,
Thank you for reading the ramblings of this young war veteran. Sounds funnyâ€¦war veteran. When I think of a war veteran I see a bunch of guys my dadâ€™s ageâ€¦sorry dadâ€¦sitting around telling old stories. Never did I imagine that one day, that would be me, especially at this ageâ€¦Iâ€™m only 29. Even so, Iâ€™ve been told that many people like hearing and want to hear what life is like over thereâ€¦from the ground level view. They want to know what the soldier thinks, our opinionsâ€¦since we are the ones serving, getting wounded and dying over there. I could never do many of those brave men and women over there proper justice, but I just try to tell the story as I saw it, as I experienced it. Thank you for humoring me and reading my lettersâ€¦
It was hotâ€¦very hotâ€¦120 degrees hot. The kind of heat that makes even breathing difficult. But I was determined nowâ€¦with God at my side, to finish out my last couple months in Iraq. So, I packed up my room. I lived in container I-8 on the northeast side of FOB Marez, in Mosul. I was only authorized to bring two large bags to Rawah with me. Everything else had to be ready to be shipped back to the states. It is amazing the amount of stuff one can acquire in a yearâ€™s time in combat. All the packages, gifts, and â€œâ€¦please send because I forgotâ€ items that I had obtained just baffled me. Now, all I had were two duffle bags, my personal protective equipment and my weapon. All of which were ready to fly down to Rawah to await my short term future.
Finally we could hear the helicopters coming in. Weâ€¦the last remaining few back in Mosul, were told to meet the two Chinhook helicopters at approximately 1900 hours (7 pm) for our hour and a half flight down to Rawah. It was now 2300 hours (11 pm) and we were anxious to say the least. We had all heard the horror stories of our future home, we just wanted to get down there and get it over with. Most of us were soldiers just off of leave, others were the stay behind closersâ€¦making sure everything was finally taken care of before they left. The flight seemed longâ€¦and was extremely dark. Flying over the vast desert, with no city lights or even the occasional car headlight, makes for a very odd and eerie experience. But we made it, safe and sound. For the next day or so we would get the rude welcome of living the combat outpost (COP) life.
â€œWelcome to COP Rawah! Yeah, it sucks here, but youâ€™ll get over that in a few days or soâ€¦showers and toilets are overrated.â€ Soldiers attempting to act overly motivated like to use the term, â€œcrutchâ€ when describing such amenities as showers, hot and cold water, toiletsâ€¦or even porta johns for that matter, and good food. No one at COP Rawah ever mentioned the term â€œcrutch.â€ There was no false motivation hereâ€¦this place sucked and everyone knew it. There was one major difference though, itâ€™s called purpose. We had a real mission hereâ€¦a purpose to get up to everyday. So we shaved in our canteen cups and walked down to the trench dug latrines, we ate the same canned boiled meal every night and we lived in amazingly hot heat everyday. We slept out under Godâ€™s sky and woke every morning with a thick layer of dust over us. But there was no complaining; no whiningâ€¦thereâ€™s no room for thatâ€¦no time. We left everyday to go on patrols and just enjoyed each others company. We were brothers, molded and forged by fire and many tragic events this past year. Something like thisâ€¦this place, this heat, all these inconveniencesâ€¦would not deter our course. Only two more months before we would be completely at homeâ€¦all of us.
August 1stâ€¦a day I will never forget. As I just finished reading my e-mail on my bossâ€™s computerâ€¦I had realized that I had made a really dumb mistake. Last night was Sunday night, July 31st and I had written my dad a birthday e-mail for his 55th birthday. His birthday is August 31stâ€¦not July. I sat there and just laughed at myself, what a dumb mistake. Just then the Squadron Commander asked me if I was ready to go. Go? Sure! Always ready. I had forgotten about a patrol we were leaving on that would take us far out to the Syrian border this dayâ€¦August 1st. So I grabbed my gear and headed to my Stryker, HQ 67. Just then, I realized that my gunner, SGT Kramer, was going to be promoted before we left this morning. He would become Staff Sergeant (SSG) Kramer. The ceremony was quick; we were already late for our desired time of departure. Everyone loaded upâ€¦SGT Scott, my driverâ€¦SSG Du, vehicle section sergeantâ€¦newly promoted SSG Kramerâ€¦Specialist LaRose, my dismount wingmanâ€¦our Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) NCO (forgive me, but I cannot remember his name, he was new to our unit)â€¦and myself. Six of us in all in HQ 67. Ready for the long drive out west to patrol the vast network of infiltration routes from Syria into Iraq.
As we hit the border, we turned around and drove into a valley formed by the mighty Euphrates River. We patrolled several villages and talked to several locals. This was a dangerous area; the Marines had plenty of problems just south of here several weeks before. We wanted to find the bad guys, but we also wanted to let the locals know, that we were here to help. We took a right turn down what seemed to be a one lane dirt road. There was no shoulder, the courtyard walls to each house butted right up against the road. Due to the height of the Stryker, I could see into every courtyard as I faced the right side of the vehicle. We continued to drive and I eyed a family in one of the courtyards. There was an old man, a couple of women, and several children. I waved at them, trying to spread my own goodwill to the Iraqi people; they all waved back with a smile. Then I put my hand down and began to turn my body toward the front of the Stryker. What happened next changed my life foreverâ€¦
There are no words or pictures I could paint to describe what happened. It didnâ€™t seem to be loud, but then again, it blew my eardrums. I felt frozen in time. â€œGod help me.â€ My mind seemed to be active, but was I unconscious? I couldnâ€™t feel anything, I couldnâ€™t see anything, I couldnâ€™t even hear anything. For what seemed to be foreverâ€¦I had no senses, but I was awake. â€œLord, what just happened? Lordâ€¦.Heatherâ€¦,â€ Iâ€¦I, thought I was literally blown apart. My mind was racing, â€œPleaseâ€¦please, give me some feeling somewhereâ€¦,â€ Slowly but surely He didâ€¦I could feel the skin of my fingers rubbing against the palms of my hands, my arms swinging in the air, my legs moving back and forth. I could faintly hear the moans of my men. It was as if my hands were tightly cupped on my ears. Then I could sense the sunlight coming into my eyes. Then as if a light switch were turned on, I had full eyesight automatically.
The events are very hazy to me and I do not remember everything as it probably happened, but as I do remember itâ€¦the dust was still settling. I looked around the vehicle, I could see newly promoted SSG Kramer, sitting on the floorâ€¦completely dazed and covered in dirt. My eyes raced over the damage inside. Was everyone ok? The EOD NCO was yelling at me, and asking if I was okâ€¦I could barely hear himâ€¦he was only 12 inches from me. He wanted me to lock eyes with him, I could hear him say, â€œStay with me sir…stay with me!â€ Then I tried to talked and started choking on my own blood. I could feel it running out my nose and I starting coughing it up. The EOD NCO told me to spit it all in his handsâ€¦so I did. I could see him asking me how to lower the ramp of the Stryker. I tried but it was damaged. Then I moaned for someone to call in our situation, but the radios were all out. I have no idea how long we sat there. For all truth told, it was probably only a few minutes, if that, but it seemed longer. Then SSG Du, started climbing out of the Stryker. I followed, now drugged up on my own adrenaline. As my head popped out of the hatch I could see the Squadronâ€™s Operations Officer (S3); he was asking if we were ok. Then he told me to jump down. I did, and stumbled towards his Stryker. I then started throwing up more blood and noticed something very oddâ€¦the inside of my upper lip was hanging out. So I ripped it off. It was only there by a tiny piece a skin anyways. I was then seated on the S3â€™s Stryker ramp. Still dazed, I noticed everyone else in our patrol moving around securing the perimeter, detaining several suspicious men, and slowly moving past me, as if to sayâ€¦we are with youâ€¦youâ€™ll be ok.
Adrenaline is an awesome gift we have in time of need. For as I sat there on that ramp, I did not know that my arm was pouring out blood. Not until the crimson redness of my sleeve caught my eye. Soâ€¦very slowly and cautiously I pulled my sleeve up past my elbow. Itâ€™s not true what they sayâ€¦at least for me. Once I saw my arm, the pain did not hit me. The hole was about 2 inches in diameterâ€¦and as I sat there I could see the blood just running out the hole and down my arm. SSG Duâ€¦he scared me more than the sight of that hole, as he yelled, â€œSirâ€¦donâ€™t look at your armâ€¦donâ€™t look at your arm!!â€ Alerted by SSG Duâ€™s cry, the TACâ€™s combat medic, SGT Matthews quickly came over to me. With a calm self-assured manner, he started talking to me and ask me if and where it hurt. He then bandaged me up and started loosening my clothes to make sure I didnâ€™t go into shock. His laid back manner and dry sense of humor actually made me laugh out there…arm wound and all. I then noticed that SSG Du had his tooth chipped. So I told him, to which he respondedâ€¦â€So do you!â€ I then realized it was true. I wonder where it went?
To add to his chipped tooth, SSG Du also had blast refuse in his eyes and some small shrapnel wounds. SSG Kramer, had blown eardrums, a severely bruised right side and shoulder, and a possible broken rib. SGT Scott, had a severe concussion. Everyone else was just sore and bruised. We waited for a medical evacuation helicopter in an abandoned house and were all shot up with morphine. The blood in my nose started keeping me from breathing. SGT Matthews then told me to blow my noseâ€¦â€What? Seriously?â€ So I didâ€¦it looked like my brain came out. I had never seen so much blood come out of me like that. I almost got sick. Then instantly the entire left side of my face swelled up. â€œDocâ€¦what the heck?!â€, â€œIts ok sirâ€¦you just probably moved a blockage.â€ Then I could hear itâ€¦as the old cadence goesâ€¦I can hear the choppers coming. I was carried to a stretcher as the birds were landing. I laid down and thatâ€™s when it happened. My adrenaline quit.
For the next 17 hours or so it was just like the movies. Seriously. In and out. Everything is sketchy at best. I remember as I was flying awayâ€¦thinking about Heather and my mom. I knew they would get that callâ€¦that call everyone back home hates getting. But as Heather says, â€œIâ€™d rather get a phone call then a personal visitâ€¦we all know what a visit meansâ€¦â€, her strength amazes me to this day. I just did not want them to worry. What would they tell them, what information would be shared. Then I awoke at the combat support hospital (CSH). They were cutting all my clothes off of me. I hated that. This was my favorite uniformâ€¦oh well. The things that go through your mind. They started asking me questionsâ€¦I tried to answer. It felt like a hundred different people were hovering over my body. Before I knew it, I was naked and had several IVs in me. My neck was surrounded by a neck collar and I had oxygen tubes up my nose. I awoke in another CSHâ€¦where they had flown me until I could be taken to Baghdad . I awoke again, while being taken off the helicopter, â€Where are we?â€ I asked, â€œBaghdad sir.â€ In and out all night. I had my first surgery, a CAT scan, and I was finally allowed to urinate. The latter being the most important event that entire night.
I awoke the next morning in the recovery room, I looked at the clock on the wallâ€¦it was about 0900. My arm had a huge cast on it and other than feeling like I had just been blown up by a car bombâ€¦I felt ok. I couldnâ€™t walkâ€¦without help. But I was taken to the bathroom and for the first time since it happened, I saw myself in a mirror. â€œMy Godâ€¦look at my face.â€ I wasâ€¦speechless. There was no recognizable feature on me. Everything was scratched, dented, scarred, cut up, black and blue, and swollen. But I was alive. Praise Godâ€¦I was alive! I had so much morphine in me and percaset, I had no real feeling in my face. Later I was flown to Balad Air Base where I finally had chance to call Heather. She was a rockâ€¦as usual. Then I was flown out that night to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. For the next week I healed up, rested, and got my walking legs back. So much so, that no one at home ever saw my face as it was that morning in Baghdad . It is amazing what drugs, rest, and the Lordâ€™s healing can do for you.
I was finally put on a medical flight from Germany to Andrews Air Force Base and subsequently to McChord Air Force Base adjacent to Fort Lewis here in Washington. Heather was at the hospital to pick me up and I went home for my long physical and mental recovery. I donâ€™t think there will ever be a day that goes by that I do not think about that dayâ€¦August 1stâ€¦at least a few times.
I will never be able to tell every one of you how much I appreciate your support. I will never take it for granted. I will never take granted your prayers for me and the rest of the soldiers over there. Please do not stop. Your prayers are saving lives everyday. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The life of a soldier in combat is hard, but its harder when you donâ€™t think your nation is behind you. Thank you for being behind me all the way!