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This would have been a great story for Memorial Day. However, I didn't learn about it until today. This is the kind of story I think everyone at Daily Kos and the nation in general should be aware of. I hope that it gives you a good sense of what the Army strives to be, and sometimes even is, in spite of everything else.

Yes, this is a "positive story" (of sorts) coming out of the current conflict in the Middle East.

It all starts when a Soldier gets hit with an SA-7 RPG round. The round does not explode, but partially impales the Soldier with the round embedded in his chest...

This story happened in the GWOT somewhere in the Middle East. Forgive me for not being too specific in some areas, hopefully I will give you enough to get an idea of what happened.

A squad of Soldiers was patrolling a town. At some point they are ambushed by a militia. Terrorists. Insurgents. Whatever. Bottom line, the guys took fire, returned fire.

In a strange turn of events, the insurgents fired an SA-7 RPG at the Soldiers. One of them, a private, was hit with the round.  The round managed to pass through part of his flak vest (it would have done the same thing if he had the Dragon's Teeth vest - in fact if the round had hit a really hard piece - a plate - it probably would have exploded and killed him). His buddies applied some dressings around the wound and transported him back to the aid station.  Two other Soldiers were wounded by gunshot fire, but not critically. They too were transported to the aid station.

The kid was in shock, but still able to speak and communicate, besides being in a whole lot of pain. Imagine seeing a missile (and that's what it was, guidance fins and all) sticking out of your chest!

Needless to say, as soon as he got to the aid station, the docs in charge cleared out the place and put him in the operating room.  Nobody was required to stick around.

In fact, the SOP in these sorts of events is that the victim is generally not expected to make it back home alive, so the explosive device is not removed or otherwise rendered safe until after the unfortunate victim has passed on.

However, your friendly neighborhood EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team arrived on the scene, and, after a brief consultation with the docs, said, "screw that," and the three worked out a strategy to save this kid's life.

Because the doc sent the nurses out, he was assisted by the EOD team in doing the initial surgery. Everyone in the room donned such protective gear as they could in the area, which meant Kevlar helmets and their own IBA vests. No fancy bomb suits, no robots.

The round (and the kid) were x-rayed by the EOD tech to see what they were dealing with. Thank goodness, the SA-7 warhead was disabled. However, such explosive rounds contain a charge which sets off the warhead. This charge is roughly the equivalent to a stick or two of TNT. This charge was very much armed and ready to go off at any moment.

Now we have the odd circumstance of the EOD guy advising the surgeon how to cut the kid so as to best get the round out of his chest. A slightly different strategy of excision than usual is decided upon (so the round cen be removed with the least chance of it going off), and the EOD guy and his team member assist in the surgery. The kid is sedated and work begins.

Once it is possible for the team member to break out, he leaves the OR and ensures that there is a 100M clear zone around the vicinity, as well as a clear path from the OR to the location where the round will be disposed of. The team member also sets to digging a hole in which to destroy the round once it is excised. Another 100M clear zone is established around the hole as well.

Mind you, all this is taking place on the grounds of a field hospital. Operations were, um, to put it mildly, disrupted.

Once the round was (veerrry gingerly) removed from the kid's chest, they still weren't finished. The EOD guy safeguarded the round and waited until the kid was (1) sewn up, (2) stabilized, and (3) transported out of the area. Then the docs were hustled out of the 100m zone.

Then, and only then, did the EOD guy personally transport the round to the hole and blow the round in place.

At all times he could have been incinerated by this chunk of high explosive, and at no point would have been derelict in his duty had he said, "screw it, this is too dangerous. I'm sorry but the risks involved outweigh this one kid's life."

In the event, the EOD guy, his team leader, and the kid are all back Stateside now. And I'm even happier to report that the EOD guy will be getting a Bronze Star with "V" device for his heroism and valor over and above the call of duty, while his team member will be getting the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device for the same. I do not know what awards the surgeon or the kid will get.

Some other things I know are these:

This is still a great Army we have in the United States.  People like these motivate me. I don't know if I could ever replicate the kind of courage and valor displayed by each of them, and I pray that I never have to. But knowing that they are out there and willing to support their fellows like that makes me sleep a little better at night. I'm glad there's folks like that EOD team and that surgeon who have my back if I ever need them. I hope that I can have theirs as well. But, like I said, you never know until you get to that point if you have it in you.

With everything that is going on, and has been going on, from Abu Ghraib to Haditha to other events I, frankly, don't want to mention - ugly horrible things have happened in this war. Some of them have happened at the hands of U.S. Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen. That is two things: (1) shameful, and (2) to be expected.

Human beings are imperfect creatures. Not everyone rises to the occasion. Some people fall below the basic standard of humanity and decency which all of us expect from each other. That does not excuse their actions. On the contrary, they should be punished severely.

But we don't fight for George Bush, we don't really fight "terrorism," or Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban. We fight the "bad guys," who are defined as "anyone shooting at us," and we fight for our brothers and sisters on the line with us. The goal is for all of us to get back from wherever to home again. To see our wives, husbands, sons, daughters and parents again. To do all of the above, if possible, in one piece.

All that other stuff is way out of our paygrade.

Sometimes, we even get to do the right thing. We get to save a life, or have a positive effect in the lives of others, be they Americans or Iraqis or Afghans or whoever.

Sometimes, we have to do the morally questionable thing. We have to fire at a vehicle speeding toward our checkpoint, or clear a house occupied by civilians (or are they insurgents?)... you never really know.

And sometimes we do the wrong thing. The car careening toward the checkpoint is unarmed and un-booby-trapped. The family whose home we just searched (and trashed), whose pride is lying there on the ground where we held them for questioning... is just another family. But sometimes the car is a VBIED (vehicle borne IED). Sometimes the family is sheltering insurgents or hiding a weapons cache in the courtyard. You never know for sure until you know for sure.

But every now and again someone puts another human being's life and well-being ahead of his or her own. That's what happened at the field hospital that day not too long ago. And that makes me proud to wear the same uniform they wore. And hopeful that, if needed, I can muster the courage to put them ahead of myself.

Because that's what heroes do. They inspire us.  

Originally posted to Oregon guy on Tue May 30, 2006 at 04:54 PM PDT.

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