Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My buddy Jose

I went to visit Jose today. Jose was in my flight at Officer’s Training School, back at Maxwell in ’95. Soft-spoken, prior enlisted, pretty sharp guy. He might be a year older than me. He’s getting out of here early - ‘leaving for Germany tomorrow. We spent about an hour and a half together. In his own words, as much as I can remember them, here’s the story he told me:

“You know, the Army doesn’t really have weather guys, so the Air force does their weather for them. I bet half of my career, I have been stationed with the Army. So I was with the XX Brigade Combat Team up near Mosul, and I was the Field Paying Agent. That means I was in charge of the petty cash – like when we needed to buy something on the economy. Lumber, sandbags, anything. Even food, sometimes. They wouldn’t take credit cards, buy they took American money. Anyway, I had to go and pick up a satchel of money at our parent FOB.

“There were five vehicles in the convoy, two gun trucks, two humvees, and a five ton. We were in the middle, with one gun truck in front and one bringing up the rear. You know, it’s the guys up top on the guns that decide every firefight. If they’re good, it’s all over real quick. But if they’re not so good it can drag on and on…

“We had the usual rock drill [rehearsal] before hand, but it didn’t seem to make much difference in the end. So we rolled, just like we always did. A little tense, but mostly boring. In my truck we had the driver, I was sitting behind him, and another guy in the front passenger seat. I didn’t know him. And then three clicks come over the radio, one… two… three, and WHOOSH! I didn’t know what happened… I felt pressure, but blacked out almost immediately. I remember not being able to hear, and seeing only black. It seemed to last forever, and then I thought I was dead. You know how your mind works so fast in a situation like that, so that time seems to slow down? It was like I was floating… floating in time. So I asked, if I’m dead, where’s Jesus?

“And in response someone shouted way far away “stop the truck!!!” But I still didn’t get it, I still wasn’t real sure what had happened. “Stop the truck!! Stop the truck!! And I opened my eyes because the shouting was so loud now and I was covered in blood. We were still moving but the driver was slumped back against the chair with his head back, not holding the wheel. His helmet was broken and hanging down. So I wiggled between the seats and saw that his left eye was just hanging out… hanging like by strings, or something. It was squished, mush. It was just mush and he didn’t have a cheek at all and blood was filling the hole in his face and coming out of his mouth and this huge hole in his face in little pulses. And we were still going and we’d run over something in the road and he’d gurgle and all this blood would spill out of his mouth and out of his hole.

“It seemed like forever… it was all in slow motion. His foot was still on the pedal but I couldn’t see where we were going because there was so much blood on everything. It was on the inside of the window and all over the chair and the cushion was soaked …it was very slippery. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something, so I reached down and pulled on his pants leg to get his foot off of the gas, and the racing noise of the engine died down and it got quiet. I put my hand on his face, under the eye, to try and stop the bleeding, but it didn’t do much good. And then the medic and a couple others finally caught up and pulled open the door and the medic yelled at me “Here! Put this on him” and I held the whole bandage against his face with my hand because I couldn’t figure out how to tie it. I yelled at the medic but he was busy with the others and the passenger was just curled up - I wasn’t sure if he was hurt or not.

“Finally, they got us out, and into another truck. Our humvee had taken an IED full on. The whole door was caved in, the tires were gone, and the bullet proof glass was busted. It was one of the up-armored humvees, otherwise I think we all would have been killed. The driver was conscious, but having trouble breathing. They put him in the front gun truck and me in the one in back, and I blacked out again. They say the five ton broke down on the way in and had to be towed, but I don’t remember that. They air evac’ed the driver to Baghdad and I think he was okay in the end. My face was all black. I didn’t even know I’d been hit. I had five wounds on the left side, and one on my neck, here. Just yesterday a piece of shrapnel or concrete or something worked its way out, but that’s okay ‘cause the doctor said it would happen. Oh, did I tell you about my glasses? I had on polycarb ballistic eyewear and they saved them to show me afterwards – there are pieces of metal and glass embedded in the plastic. ‘Probably saved my eyes, but I am not sure if I’ll ever get all of my hearing back though. Maggie’s going to meet me tomorrow when I get in, but not the kids. Not yet…”

We talked some more. He remembered Anais and asked about her. But in the end, what can you say to a story like that? Gee, sorry it happened to you? After a while I had to leave. We shook hands and he wished me luck. “Why?” I asked? “It seems to me you’re the one who could use a little luck.” “But you’re the one staying” he replied.


Blogger lalavoie said...

Heavy, heavy, heavy sigh and tears.

December 12, 2006 8:56 AM  
Blogger KAB said...

I know that no wars are pretty, but this seems like a particularly frustrating and deadly one for our soldiers and a particularly cowardly one on the part of our enemies.

December 12, 2006 9:02 AM  
Blogger pbinkowski7142 said...

Your story made me cry not only for your friend but for all of our guys getting maimed and worse.

Good on you for visiting him-- of course you would.

Love Yo YO

December 13, 2006 11:36 AM  
Blogger jenjediknight said...

Thank you, Major, for putting faces on this ugly war. Thank you for telling its story so eloquently. Otherwise, here in the States, it is too easy for folks to get numb and complacent. We all must continue to work for a way to end these brutalities. We thank you for your service! Keep on being you! You are in our hearts. Stay safe! Soon you will be home for the holidays with your loved ones!

December 14, 2006 6:57 AM  

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