Saturday, March 19, 2005


Combat Vets

We're Combat Veterans now, I guess you could say "officially" and "unofficially."

Yesterday most of us participated in a Combat Patch Ceremony, in which members of our Battalion were officially authorized to wear a "shoulder sleeve insignia" indicating "former wartime service." Ordinarily, units conduct this kind of ceremony after leaving a combat zone, but our division chose to do so shortly after we had served 30 days in the combat zone, which then establishes our eligibility. This allows us to wear our unit patch on the right shoulder (in addition to the one normally worn on the left). That's the official part.

That same day, many of us experienced our first brush with hostile fire.

At the height of our meal, our DFAC was full of soldiers and contractors. Suddenly, there was a loud boom, then another. They seemed loud for a controlled detonation by the Explosives Ordnance Detachment (EOD), but occurred in a pattern and at a time when such detonations would be possible. By the time the third blast occurred, much louder this time, the entire DFAC burst into a blur of movement.

Soldiers grabbed helmets and weapons and headed for the exits, trays dropped where they stood, plates half eaten, food left sizzling on the grills. (I had another one of those steaks, rare this time almost to the point of raw, but didn't have time to figure out whether I'd eat it or not.)

A couple of us senior NCOs made sure everyone evacuated and guided diners to protective barriers and bunkers outside. We had to convince some to leave, but hiding under tables doesn't offer much protection when you're inside a huge canvas circus tent.

Everyone got alert and aware in a hurry, but other than a foreign civilian fainting, there wasn't any extreme reaction or panic, training kicked in. The parking lot was more confused at first, there were people down, some folks were able to take off for their work sites, but most were awaiting further instruction or making sure their buddies and teammates were okay.

All except the Combat Life Savers (CLS).

We've had a big push on training as many soldiers as possible in CLS, which emphasizes immediate buddy aid and the most immediate, critical care for severe injuries. We can treat heavy bleeding, chest and abdominal wounds, head wounds, and prevent shock. We can stick an Intravenous Drip (IV), which quite literally can save lives until more medical personnel arrive or a casualty can be evacuated. And we've got a lot of them.

That day you knew who the CLS were (along with the EMTs and Paramedics). They were running to trucks for their bags or grabbing the kits in the DFAC and setting up immediate triage.

One of our medics happened to be working a detail about 400 yards from the DFAC. Soldiers on guard in a nearby tower could see soldiers down in the parking lot, and raised an alarm. Our medic took off towards the casualties at a sprint. People who he passed remarked on how deadly serious he looked, how completely focused he was on where he was headed and what he purposed to do.

Now our medic is a solitary man, very quiet and reserved, a very nice guy, but very serious and very devoted to combat medicine. He took as many extra training classes as he could root out and get us to sign him up. He built his own medic bag that was three times the size of any others we've seen. He helped us with all our medical training, and was always there whenever we needed a CLS or medic during training. During our Defensive Lanes training, we just about wore him out as he almost single-handedly treated dozens of simulated injuries under fire and coordinated casualty collection and medivac.

And yesterday, he was first on the scene and treated the most seriously injured. He beat the local troop medical clinic response team, and stabilized his patient and escorted him as he was evacuated. It is almost certain that his actions saved that man's life.

Strictly speaking, this is not our unit's first taste of combat. One of our security detachments had an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) go off, and two gate guards had to protect and escort to safety innocent civilians when the gate came under small arms fire.

But this was different. A large number of us experienced it first hand. Thankfully, none of our folks were injured. But you still know that somebody's unit got hurt. If any of us had been a little earlier, or a little later, or if our buddies hadn't been late that day going to chow, or if we had parked in that spot we want if we can get it, all these "there but by the grace of God went I" kind of thoughts that bring you slap-in-the-face back to reality.

So I guess we can say we're combat vets. I don't know that I feel any different, but I can tell you I've got my eyes wide open and I know where my cover is. And the ammunition is a simple lock-and-load away.

Please God, heal those injured and give their families peace. Keep them in your care. Allow us to find those responsible and dispatch with them. (If You want to deal with them, our fellow soldiers will gladly oblige in sending them Your way.)

Thank you God that our friends and fellow soldiers were spared injury or death.

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