I dozed in and out of consciousness. There were points where I was very alert, and points where I simply can’t remember. I remember coming in sight of the old COP. The power station. It gave me a small smile. I had a lot of good memories there. It was almost the half way point to Rusty. I suppose there are some places that stick out in your memory. It was perhaps three hundred meters past the road to turn into Riyassa that it happened.
(Pictures, courtesy of SGT Cannon & Doc Bailey. All Rights Reserved Cannon & Bailey)
“FUCK!” I knew it meant one thing and I already dreaded what I would find.
“2-2 is hit” called the LT.
“Get me up there” I yelled at SGT Johnson.
2-4 started to close the distance to the vehicle ahead of us, and instantly we tensed up, ready for whatever we saw.
“Dismount!” I heard SSG Davidson order.
I opened the door, and threw my aid bag on my back and grabbed my weapon. I sprinted once I got around the vehicle in front of me I saw to my horror that 2-2 was fully engulfed in flames. Already I could hear the insane popping of rounds cooking off. LT was standing by the Burn blanket, and saw me as I came running up on the scene
I veered right and went past PFC Hassibaf who was trying to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, but at that point it was beyond putting out. I went to help drag SSG Beaumont down on to the lip of the berm, below the burning humvee, to provide some cover from the rounds that were cooking off. I started to assess the casualties. By far SSG Beaumont was the worst. He had multiple punctures and lacerations, and at least one of his arms was broken., his left leg was oozing yellowish fluid, and I put a tourniquet above the highest wound. It was almost on his groin. His right leg wasn’t much better.
I quickly cut away part of his pant legs, to see what his injuries were. It was then that SSG Wheeler showed up, and started helping me with buddy aid. I directed him what to do, and moved on to PFC Edwards. He had a large through and through wound in his left leg above the knee, it looked like he might also have some burns around his nose and mouth. I quickly put a CAT above the puncture, and moved on to PFC Price.
He was screaming in pain, blood pouring out of his right eye. The wound looked like it extended into his eye. Right there, I thought he was going to lose his eye. I called for water to clean out his eye, and once cleaned out it looked like it may have narrowly missed his eye, but I still wanted to bandage it up. I quickly pulled out a roll of Kirlex and a 2x2 and patched his eye then wrapped the Kirlex around his head, like a mummy, to keep it in place. I told SSG Vera to stay with him.
“Doc how bad is it?”
“You’ll live.” I told him
“Give me morphine.” he cried
“Not yet. Hang on.” I moved back to Drew Edwards, and took a quick look at Aeti and he gave me a shaken thumbs up, but I didn’t have time. If he wasn’t bleeding, or hurt, I simply didn’t have time, but I did keep asking if he was alright.
SSG Beaumont’s injuries were too numerous to list. He had a broken arm I’m sure, his legs were all sorts of fucked up, and he had a 1000 yard stare. He wasn’t tracking despite incredible pain. I checked to see anywhere else that might cause him to bleed out in the next few minutes, satisfied that he wouldn't die on me in the next minute or so, I finally spoke to him.
“Yes?” he asked, dazed.
“I can’t give you Morphine man, I think you might have a head wound”
“Ugh” was all he replied. He would later ask at least twice more for morphine.
I don’t know how long I was there and I remember only flashes of it. I had run out of cravats so I used an ace bandage to make a sling for SSG Beaumont. I remember SSG Vera asking if he should plug PFC Price’s wound on his leg, I didn't even look at him when I said "yes," and I threw him some Kirlex and told him to do it.
I would only spend a minute on each man, bouncing from man to man. All the while the Humvee 2-2 was burning close enough to feel the heat. The popping as rounds cooked off sounded like the popcorn from hell, getting ever louder. The rounds cooking off were getting bigger, instead of a crackling sound like popcorn, it was starting to be a loud pop POP POP.
I remember hearing someone say “the AT-4 is going to go!” and I remember looking up right after a flare shot over my head.
I was between Edwards and Beaumont, when the AT-4 blew. I was perhaps no more than 15 meters away, and the explosion rattled all my hollow organs. Even dampened by the wreckage I felt the heat from the fire and the force of the blast. I felt like someone had just punched me.
It was almost an eternal moment. I just stared at the Humvee. Had that just happened? Had I just been that close? Was I still alive. All was silent, the noise of the screaming wounded. The smell of the fire, and cordite, all of it disappeared and I sat there staring at what should have killed me. I turned to look over my right shoulder, and there SSG Davidson was looking at me. He was 10 meters away at the bottom of the berm in the ditch but I could see he was rattled too. We shared a look. It was nothing more than “we’re still here.” and I went back to my work. I continued my work. Men brought stretchers to load up the wounded.
It was time to go, but first I had to plug PFC Edward's leg wound. He had a through and though hole where a .50 round had cooked off and shot through his leg. I’d already put a tourniquet on, but, I had to plug that hole. He was already turned over, laying on his stomach on a backboard.
“Hang on, this is really going to hurt” I told him. I took a wad of Kirlex out and started shoving it in the the wound. Immediately he started screaming
“OH STOP!!! GOD DAMMIT PLEASE STOP!!!” his cries becoming more incoherent and piteous as I grit my teeth and shoved the kirlex in for all I could. I had to plug the wound but the pain it was causing him made me sick to my stomach. when I was satisfied that it was plugged I pulled out an Israeli dressing and wrapped it around his leg.
When at last I stopped, the rest of the platoon was getting set to load up. I tried to get Drew and SSG Beaumont in one truck and Price and Aeiti another. But someone told my Drew’s foot was broken, which I had missed completely. They loaded him up as a litter patient and put him in with Price in a second vehicle. I grabbed my aid bag, and picked up my weapon, and followed Edwards. I had to climb in over his backboard, at an odd angle because Humvees are just not meant for medical evacuations.
As soon as I was in the remaining humvees in Alpha section sped off down Outer Berm Road. Now that I wasn’t doing anything I noticed my hands were shaking. I couldn’t do any more for either Drew or Price.
“Our father who art in heaven” I reached into my medical rig on my chest, and took out a morphine auto injector “Hallowed be Thy name” I pulled off the safety cap, my hands shaking.
“Thy Will be done” and held the lateral portion of Price's thigh “Give us this day our daily bread. One one thousand two one thousand three one thousand four one thousand five. . . “I counted to ten before removing the auto injector I bent the needle and tried to put it against Price’s top, which had been cut open.
“Forgive us our trespasses,” I took out another, my hands shaking wildly “as we forgive those who trespass against us” I held the auto injector against Edward’s leg and counted rapidly “Lead us not into temptation.” I bent the needle and tried to put it again Edward’s shirt, his top long ago had been cut off. “But deliver us from evil” The gunner called out that there were Sandbags in front of the Iraqi Police station. Sandbags were notorious for holding more IEDs or marking them. The Driver, Espadas, who was known for thinking he was a drag racer slowed down and was going to weave through the maze “Espadas if you get us killed I swear to God, I’m going to fucking kill you!” I said.
"Calm down. I got this" he said. It didn't inspire confidence.
He weaved in and out of the Sandbag maze, though they were no more than one high, they were designed to slow cars. He could have gone over them but it was better just to avoid them. “For thine is the Power,” he pulled right “and the Glory,” and then left. “forever.” He pulled right again “Forever and ever,” we were through and he sped down outer berm road. “Amen.”
I repeated it one more time as we sped toward FOB Rustamayah. The lead gunner fired a couple of rounds across the MSR to get a clear path, warning shots, that weren't near anyone. The Humvees all sped down the MSR, and through the gates. They pulled in front of the Hospital, and the casualties were pulled out. I watched it all in a surreal way.
I took off my vest and K pot. Left my weapon in the truck and followed them in. I watched as they worked. It wasn’t as furious as they had with Craig, these men were not going to die. The Battalion Commander and Sergeant Major came down, and brought along the reporter, David Finkle. They watched as well, but at the time I had very mixed feelings about a reporter being there, and seeing this. I’d had my fill of that, and walked outside, and that’s when it hit me. That thought that I had ignored for almost an hour.
I staggered around the entrance, feeling dazed. The CSM and Commander came out, and too tired to care about military courtesy, I merely nodded to them. I asked them if they had heard what had happened, and they had told me they were tracking Harrelson's death. Then as part of the conversation I mentioned that I hoped he went quick. The CSM said otherwise. It was like someone had poured ice down my spine, and I couldn't feel worse about it. I excused myself and tried to get the hell away from them as fast as possible.
I went to the nearest bunker and leaned against it. He had just turned 19! Spanky he liked to be called, because he looked like the character off the Little Rascals. The only other person I had known that knew what that show was. He was going to go to 'Bama and be an Engineer. He had a girl back home he was gonna marry!
I saw out of the corner of my eye my Senior Medic coming towards me, arm outstretched as if to comfort me. I didn’t want to be comforted. I took a deep breath and let out a yell. Of frustration, rage, pain or just the sheer wrongness or unfairness of it all. It was all of those things and none of those things, but I felt better when it was done.
The fact remained. I had lost another man. Another friend. I found out later that Harrelson had died instantly, which provided only a small measure of relief. It doesn't take away the loss of someone barely old enough to be called a man.
But you know the thing that really gets me, we weren’t chasing some evil terrorists, or saving puppies from a burning building. We were just returning to the FOB for some well deserved time off. My only thought was, of a hot shower and some halfway decent chow. Hell of a way to fight a war.
Doc Bailey served as a Combat Medic with the 2nd of the 16th Infantry Regiment, in Northern Baghdad during 2007, "The Surge." He helps to lead an effort to bring the Truth to propagandized events surrounding the attack in which two Arab reporters, working for Reuters, were killed while mixed in with terrorists of the Mehdi Militia. He has authorized War On Terror News to publish the events he witnessed.
He also maintains his own blog at The Madness of a Combat Medic.