“So this is what it’s like to get blown up.”
May 15, 2006 Carl is Back from Iraq! ..in one piece this time.
Our son Carl, volunteered to serve as a Combat Medic in Iraq along
with a courageous group of soldiers from the 4th Alabama. His
motivation was to help save the injured in a fight to bring freedom,
sanity, and tolerance to a small part of the world. On Tuesday
August 9th, 2005 someone who wishes the insanity and death to
continue, set off a road side bomb that tore open the vehicle he was
in and cut through his body. Two days latter the Army called to
inform us that he was in very serious condition in Germany and was
being moved to Walter Reed in DC. We joined him there and I was
able to stay with him for the next month, changing bandages, helping
with paper work, keeping him company, and helping him transition
back into a world that does not explode. The story below is part of
We share Carl's story to help everyone remember that we are a country at war. Carl is proof of that. He's not a number at the end of the newscast. He's a face and a smile and a laugh. So is each one of our soldiers. Carl is not a "hero", and this is not a "hero" story. Like so many, Carl was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We use the word as a term of endearment. Carl is "our hero". --Doug Jackson
“So this is what it’s like to get
Tuesday morning, Aug 9th, 2005, third platoon rolled out of Saint Michael’s on what was now a routine patrol of the rural roads around Mahmudiya (Mom-Ma-Dee-A) Iraq.
As our four hummers, or gun trucks passed
through gate 3 the tires of our heavily armored vehicles sank
easily through fine talcum powder like dust.
As our patrol cleared the gate word came over the company radio that the Blue element had been hit with an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). The Blue element consists of two Abrams main battle tanks, and most IED’s pose little threat, except to the commander and driver that might be exposed.
The tankers had identified and fired on a car that had dropped the IED and relayed the direction it fled. Sgt Rusk in the first truck led third platoon north up the canal road to Fatboy. Three years earlier the roads around Mahmudiya had taken on new names from the invading forces. The map now read like a subdivision that had been planned by a group of thirty year olds with roads like Harley, Softail, Metallica, and Vader. Third Platoon’s intention was to intercept the blue 4-door sedan that was now sporting 50 caliber holes courtesy of the Blue element.
The gun trucks slowed on the approach to Fatboy bridge so they could carefully cross between the guard rail and the 15 by 30 foot crater that opened up to the water 35 feet below. Fatboy bridge was a check point now manned by the IA (Iraqi Army) and a favorite target for suicide bombers. Sgt Enlow called clear as his truck in the last position reached the far side of the bridge, and the patrol accelerated west on Fatboy across Sue and toward the remains of a Republican Guard compound that was destroyed during the war. The countryside is dotted with mud huts in various states of disrepair, clumps of brush and concrete houses separated by small fields of wheat and barley. It is primarily an agricultural area within a maze of irrigation canals that bring water from the Tigress River. Fatboy road is not untypical as a main road. It is paved with asphalt and runs parallel to a foot path and large canal. Chasing after an insurgent fleeing an attack was not new to third platoon. I was riding in the number three truck and I was not optimistic about our chances of intercepting the blue sedan. Listening in on the radio traffic we knew that lots was already going wrong. One of the Abrams was loosing its engine, their 50 caliber gun had jammed, and they had lost sight of the sedan.
The IED’s had recently become more lethal. No longer were they just 155 mm arterially rounds. Intelligence was advising us that Iran was supplying the capability of building shape charges. Now IED’s were about the size of a one gallon paint can with one concaved side and lined with a copper plate. When detonated the shape of the charge would focus the energy into the copper plate, warping it into ball and propelling it toward the passing vehicle. On impact the inertia of the copper would burn through the armor plating and spray fragments into the vehicle. The triggering device for an IED could be as simple as a telephone wire and a 9 volt battery or some remote device such as a cell phone, car alarm, garage door opener, or remote door bell. In addition to armor plating the platoon also carried a Warlock system that was designed to jam cell phones and other remote devices, but the insurgents had simply switched back to using det cord or detonating cord, commonly used for explosives and impervious to electronic jamming. The best defense against an IED is speed. The IED still requires a Haji sitting in a mud hut or behind a bush to time the explosion as the truck passes, but with practice comes perfection, and this day Haji got it right.
The first sensation was of the truck being lifted and moving sideways. I was thrown forward from my seat into the back of the front seat where Sgt Ballenger, the Truck Commander was. It was all quite confusing for a little while, but the first thing to register was screaming. Someone was screaming and the truck was filled with dirt as it rolled to a stop. “So this is what it’s like to get blown up.” In the following moments I recognized that we had been hit and that the screaming was Ballenger just forward of me. Finally after months of patrols and worrying about how well I would perform as the platoon medic the opportunity was here. My medic bag was sitting beside me and Ballenger was obviously wounded, but I could not move. My legs only responded with flailing kicks and a fog blurred my mind. I pulled the chin strap from my Kevlar helmet and kicked my Kevlar off into the floor. Ballenger's screaming was punctuated with “I’m burning, I’m burning!” Spc Freeman, the truck's gunner, dropped from the turret to help pull Ballenger from his seat and onto the transfer case that runs down the center of the truck. Molten metal fragments had passed through the truck's battery and the fragments along with battery acid where now imbedded in Ballenger's leg. Freeman turned to recover his CLS (Combat Life Saver) bag, and saw the blank expression on my face. He asked “Are you hit?” “Yea, I’m hit” was my reply. It was clear to me now that it was not shock holding me in my seat. “Where?” was Freeman’s next question, and I answered honestly “I don’t know, help Ballenger”. How fucked up is this? I’m the medic, I can’t move and I don’t even know how bad I am. Freeman’s attention was back on Ballenger and he went to work applying a tourniquet to the injured leg. The fog continued to lift and I began to assess my injuries. I had use of both my arms even though my left hand was bloody. My legs were numb and responding poorly but they were both still clearly attached and unscarred. My right side, closest to the door was the source of the most pain and it was difficult to breath. “You’re the medic.” I thought to myself. “You’re in one piece, so do your job, move, move.” I reached forward to grab the back of Ballenger’s seat and pulled, but there was no response from my legs. I continued to try to get my body to move but had little success. All I could do was focus on my breathing. Sgt Lawrence and Sgt Enlow from the rear truck had reached my door and they were working on opening it. I watched through the window beside me, that was now opaque from spider web like cracks in the acrylic. When the door opened Lawrence asked “How bad are you hit?” and this time I knew the right answer “Bad”. “All right, we're going to get you out of here” and with that he began pulling me from the truck, but my legs hung up inside the truck until Enlow grabbed them and helped Lawrence lower me to the ground. My 9 mm fell from my holster about the same time I recognized that the platoon was engaging every possible hiding place with every piece of weaponry at our disposal. Spc Walker was moving back from the second truck and firing his M16 as he moved. It was standard operating procedure to put holes in any obstacle that might be concealing our Haji. We wanted him dead and if there was a secondary device we did not want anyone around to set it off. I considered retrieving the 9 and joining in the mêlée but reconsidered since I was not in the best of positions or condition to return fire and shooting one of my buddies in the leg would not be helpful.
While lying on the ground I looked up at my truck. It was in better condition than I thought it would be, but there were holes in my door. Sgt Rusk, the TC in the lead truck had his truck swing around and pull up beside me. Quickly he exited and helped load me into the rear of his truck. Spc Wilson, the trucks gunner is a Rambo protégée but without the calmness under pressure. Along with a steady steam of rounds from the 240 Bravo (machine gun), he also delivered a stinging array of insults. Wilson left the gun, and shouting excitedly he grabbed my legs and pulled me inside, and fought to drag my waist over the transfer case. In frustration Rusk shouted “Shut the fuck up. Focus!”, and with that Wilson managed to lift me on inside. Wilson then returned to Rambo mode and while shell casings rained down, Rusk shouted over the gun fire, “We are leaving!” With that Spc Johnson the truck driver gunned the engine and we headed back toward Saint Michaels. Rusk got on the radio “Bama Exray, Bama Exray this is 32. We are currently in route to FOB with casualties. Tell SOG to open Gate 1 now!” Johnson again approached Fatboy bridge but this time the truck did not slow. It bounced hard as it jumped the curb. One tire rode had to ride on the sidewalk, so the other would miss the crater. The though of drowning in the water below pass through my mind. What a day that would be; but once clear Johnson apologized for the rough ride. Wilson still in the gun turret had retrieved his M4 and was clearing traffic by discharging a generous number of warning shots and shouting “Get the fuck out of the way!”. Occasionally he would drop down and ask “You doing alright?” to which a nod would suffice. Rusk the TC is a big ol’country boy who once served with the 101st Airborne Division and he had been in the shit before. He turned in his seat, took my hand, squeezed it, and told me I was going to be alright but I could see tears in his eyes, and that was a bad sign. The big badass is getting teary-eyed. For the first time I thought I might die.
The pain was starting to set in and I had time to consider what it meant not to be able to move my legs. I told Rusk “I think I broke some ribs” and he said, “It looks like you have something protruding from you man”. Less than 10 minutes had elapsed since the explosion and I knew I was only minutes away from medical care. I was calm, conscious, and able to breath. My training and experience as a medic on an ambulance crew told me I was not doing too poorly.
We pulled into Saint Michael’s up to the BAS (Battalion Aid Station) and were met by Sgt Batt. As they lifted me from the truck I could see the blood that covered the rear seat. With my fingers I reached under the lower edge of my body armor and felt the hole, surprised at how deep my fingers could enter my side. Once inside the BAS the job of stabilizing my condition ran quickly. I sat up on the table as my armor was removed, an IV was inserted, morphine was injected, an x-ray was done, and bandages were applied. Ballenger was soon on the table next door and I remember a discussion regarding his tourniquet. An officer standing near by was only giving me passive responses to my inquires about Ballenger's condition, and I soon lost composure. “Look mother fucker that guy was on my truck he is one of my boys. I want to know how he is doing.” It's not every day you can address an officer in this fashion but today I was allowed and it brought forth the informative answers I wanted.
The BAS is only a temporary stop in the causality pipeline. Serious wounds are treated at a CSH pronounced "Cash" or Combat Surgical Hospital . The nearest CSH is in Baghdad. Five minutes by air and about thirty minutes by road. Sgt Batt knew this and was arguing with someone on the other end of the phone who was refusing to send a bird. Dust storms are not rare in Iraq and one was blowing in quickly. When it arrived, all flights would be grounded and even the roads would become difficult to travel. Finally the bird, “Eagle Dustoff” agreed to make the run and in less than five minutes I was being loaded into the back of a Blackhawk courtesy of the 101st Airborne. Five minutes after that I was on the ground in Baghdad at the 86th CSH. If the Army can ever find my camera I have some great shots taken by the staff at the CSH and a movie of being entubated just before going into surgery. It took less than 50 minutes from injury to surgery.
After surgery everything is fuzzier. The surgeons at the 86th CSH removed the right kidney, and sewed up a laceration to the liver, removed shrapnel and added a chest tube to prevent my lung from collapsing. Other injuries included a damaged pancreas, a fractured L1 vertebra and a couple of fractured ribs, a palm sized chunk of flesh missing from my right arm and another from my side where the shrapnel entered. There were a number of smaller cuts mainly on the left hand, a Forest Gump wound (aka: hit in the ass), and a small laceration in front of the right ear.
Twenty four hours later I was on a hospital flight to Landstuhl in Germany where they repaired some bleeding from my liver. Another twenty four hours later I was back on a hospital flight heading to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington DC where I would be transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. After a week I was released from ICU and three weeks later I am scheduled be released as an outpatient for a week or so at the Mologne House where outpatients can stay with their families before they are discharged for convalescent leave.
While recovering Sgt Batt sent some photos of my body armor and Kevlar. It is pretty obvious that the Kevlar saved my life. The Kevlar was dented inward and partially torn open by a large piece of shrapnel that bounced off and then exited through the steel roof of the hummer. The photos also show that the shrapnel which entered my side, first went through my body armor dragging the lower edge of the material into my side so that it appeared to Rusk that something was protruding.
I have received the finest medical care that can be offered from the BAS, the 86th CSH, Landstuhl, Walter Reed and the flights in between. I am not cared for by a doctor, but by several teams of doctors, each specialized in their fields. Cpt Hueman (He-Man) my primary surgeon at Walter Reed exemplifies the level of skill and dedication. Always concerned about my pancreas we learned that he pays attention to the numbers but he treats the patient and lives by a simple set of rules for life as a surgeon; “Sleep when you can. Eat when you can. And don’t fuck with the pancreas”.
No doubt I was lucky to be alive. Lucky my Kevlar prevented my brains from being splattered on the roof of the hummer; lucky the fragments were slowed by the armor on my hummer and my body armor so that more of my guts were not damaged and lucky that my spine was only fractured and not severed. I was lucky to be serving with an experienced and dedicated crew that knew that minutes counted and did everything to expedite my evacuation, lucky that the sand storm was not 5 minutes earlier, and lucky to have the medical services required.
All of this luck was underscored when I was able to get out of bed and walk around Walter Reed. It is not long before you meet a soldier who is missing a leg or an arm. The PT (physical therapy) room is filled with soldiers learning to walk and others that will never walk again. In four more months my wounds will be completely healed and these events will only remain as memories and scars as I return to duty and possibly my crew in Iraq. For so many others a completely new life is ahead of them with many more obstacles in their path.
I would like to add, that as a casualty of this conflict that I have 100% conviction that the fight and my injuries are worth the cause and I wish to return to the fight in Iraq. My other wish is that every citizen of this nation takes the time to think of the soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country, and know that they did it for them. I would also like every parent and teenager to think about the price they would be willing to pay for their freedom. Would you be willing to let your child go to war so that your wife could walk down the street with the freedom of not having to wear a veil or be covered in black? Would you be willing to stand by your brothers in arms and take a bullet so that they may return home to their families? Every answer varies from person to person, but if it is anything less then yes, I ask one question: Why do you let someone else make that sacrifice? You may have a good reason, and I respect those reasons, but take some time and answer these questions. I appreciate all your support for the soldiers of this country, you have no idea how much it means to us that the people of this nation are behind us. Thank you and God Bless.
The Stars and Strips articles below were done after Carl's return to Iraq in December of 2005.