Today will always have special significance for me. Last year on this day, I was still checking my fingers and toes to make sure they were all there after being hit by an IED.
Now, let me say right off the bat that it wasn't really bad. I'm not a hero, nor am I wearing a Purple Heart. But the experience was still life changing.
July 31st, 2006 was the first day of a routine 3 day mission for my platoon. Four trucks from 3rd platoon, plus a radio jammer truck, would scout ahead of the rest of our company from Al Asad to Trebil, Jordan, and back. We had been doing this for three full months, and were starting to do reasonably well.
My truck, an M-1117 ASV, or armored security vehicle, was in the lead. An ASV is like a mini-tank, with lots of armor and a turret mounted machine gun and grenade launcher. We had been told in training that it would hold up to a good sized IED, but we hadn't actually seen one get hit yet. Our job, as we moved along a four lane divided highway, was to look for IED's or components along the sides of the road. We cleared the route ahead of the 150 or so tanker trucks that we were escorting, so that they could travel at top speed.
We were going about 35mph, which is too fast to see stuff on the road in time to stop. Our main job as the lead truck was to call out anything suspicious and let the other trucks slow down and look at them. As we crested a hill about 2 hours from the town of Rutbah, I saw a tire hanging on a fencepost, about 25 yards off the road. This was highly suspicious for us, as the terrorists used highly visible objects as 'aiming stakes'. Essentially, the idea was to put an aiming stake in line with the IED and the triggerman, so that they could better hit a moving target.
As I saw the tire, I toggled my radio to call for the next truck to slow down, and I was just looking at the side of the road near the tire when the IED exploded. All that I really saw was a flash of light, and we felt the shrapnel hitting the side of the truck. Training took over, and I yelled at my driver to hit the gas and clear the area, in case there was more to come. There wasn't, and we couldn't go far anyways, as the two tires on my side were thoroughly shredded. I called over the radio that were hit by an IED, which was actually redundant since all the other trucks had a great view of the blast, and asked my guys if they were hurt.
PFC Percival, who was riding in the back seat after his truck had broken down, was screaming that his leg was hit. After realizing that I was ok, that was the worst moment, thinking that one of my guys was wounded. We slowly stopped the truck, and the gunner, SPC Kirkpatrick, moved back to help Percival. As best as we can tell, the pain in Percival's leg was caused by the shock wave hitting the hull, which his leg was sitting against. If you think of those little perpetual motion balls that people have on their desks, you can imagine the force of the IED blast moving through the armor of the truck. We were told later that the IED was 4-130mm mortar rounds, which makes it a medium-large sized IED for our area. The guys behind us described the fireball as about the size of a house.
As my heart rate dipped below 200, we double checked everyone in the truck, since shock can cause you to not realize you are hit. The other trucks with us surrounded us for security, and the LT started to organize a search for the triggerman. I got out of the truck and talked with my boss, SFC Price. He looked me over to make sure I was ok, as I had done with my guys, and then we took a look at the ASV. It was pitted with shrapnel damage, including one big chunk on the turret. The tires were peppered with small and large holes. But that was it.
As the medic looked over Percival to make sure he was okay, he also took a look at me because I had a pounding headache (possibly stress induced!). The next day, my guys and I stayed on base as our truck was getting looked at. All they ended up having to do was replace the tires. But I had a problem.
My headache had generated a treatment report by the medic, which was in turn forwarded up the chain of command. We had been briefed before the deployment that the Army would notify your family if you were dead or wounded. Our wives were told that a phone call meant it wasn't bad, but a knock on the door was. I had heard of guy's families being officially notified by the Army just for being seen by a medic, even if they weren't hurt. So I worried that my wife would get a phone call saying I had been hit by an IED even though I wasn't really hurt. I tried to use a phone on base, but they weren't working. So the news that she had been hoping not to hear had to come over email instead. Here's what I sent-
Sorry I can't get to a phone for this, but I want you to hear from me before the Army calls. We got hit by an IED yesterday. I AM FINE!!! My guys and I are all fine. I wont be able to get to a phone until we get back tomorrow, but I will call as soon as I can so you can hear my voice and know that I am alright. I came away with a fair sized headache, but that is it. The medic looked me over, which is why you might get a call from someone with the Guard office. I am fine! The new truck I have been bragging about did the job. It caught all the blast and stopped it cold. Nothing got in the truck. We have to change out two of the tires and it will be ready to drive again tonight. I did get a nifty souvenier though, a nice chun of shrapnel from the tire. I was thinking of wearing it on a chain around my neck, or would that be too much of a cliche? Seriously, though, I am fine, and I will still be home in less than a month for leave. I love you and I will call as soon as I can. Dave
Just like it happens in the movies, telling someone not to panic usually causes more panic. My wife told me that several strong adult beverages were consumed after getting my email, and she didn't sleep until she heard my voice a day later.
In retrospect, I count myself as lucky. Lucky to have been assigned to an armored vehicle, lucky that my driver didn't panic and roll the truck, and lucky to be able to say I took an IED blast in Iraq and walked away from it. And lucky to be sitting in a hotel room a year later, with my kids and wife sleeping, as I imbibe some adult beverages myself and write this post.