Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

Wear it as Intended

Wear it as Intended

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District
Little Rock, Arkansas

I joined the Army in the summer of 2001, excited to train to become a combat medic. It was peacetime and I’d enlisted because my grandfather served and I loved the idea of the Army paying for college. I went through Basic Training at then-Fort Benning, Georgia, and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Everything was going great. Then all hell broke loose. As my training unit was taking an exam on Sept. 11, our drill instructor stopped us. He told us our country had been attacked and we should prepare ourselves for war!

After finishing AIT, I was stationed with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where I was assigned to the 4/64 Armored Division. When I arrived, I was interviewed by the reconnaissance platoon leader to see if I would be a good fit to be the medic attached to their section. I was told I fit right in and would become their medic during my second week at Fort Stewart. For the next year and a half, we trained constantly in preparation for whatever Uncle Sam needed us to do.

In March 2003, my unit began its mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We fought continuously, ending up at Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad. We spent a few months in Baghdad when my unit received orders to deploy to Fallujah. This is where my story gets crazy.

On June 17, 2003, we were tasked to destroy an enemy communication system that was left on the roadside outside Fallujah. As we placed explosive charges on the system, our mortar platoon came over the radio, asking for assistance because they’d come into contact with enemy fighters. We raced to their location and began providing suppression fire from all our weapons.

My HMMWV was equipped with an MK-19 grenade launcher. Spc. Adams, my gunner, was operating the weapon when it misfired. He yelled to me that he needed help fixing the weapon. I handed him a flathead screwdriver and he popped the bad round out of the weapon and loaded another round into the chamber. Unbeknown to us, the first round was lodged in the barrel. When Adams pressed the trigger to fire the second round, the weapon blew up in his face while I was standing next to him. Adams took shrapnel to the face, while I had a piece of metal about the size of a half dollar enter my chest and another piece strike my right hand. We were both medically evacuated to the nearest combat hospital in the desert. I went into surgery in Iraq and awoke four days later in a hospital bed in Germany with a breathing tube down my throat.

Lessons learned

Here are a few lessons I learned from our incident. First, I should have been wearing the collar on my flack vest. Prior to the mishap, I’d removed the collar because it bothered me when I turned my head. The shrapnel entered my body near the point where the collar would have been and may have stopped how far it penetrated my chest. Second, it was so hot in Iraq that the grenades had swollen inside their casings and could not make it out of the weapon. If we had noticed during our inspections that the grenades were swollen, we would have replaced those bad rounds. We were so busy fighting and taking care of one another that we failed to pay attention to the small details.

Fortunately, Adams also survived the incident, but not without some major medical issues. He is now blind in his right eye. When the shrapnel entered his face, it traveled behind his eye and severed his optic nerve. As for me, I lost my right clavicle and my vocal cords are paralyzed on the left side. So, what can you learn from our experience? Even in the heat of battle, take the time to ensure your equipment is ready to fight and always wear your personal protective equipment as it is designed to be worn. You never know when it might save your life or prevent you from suffering a more significant injury.

  • 24 March 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 237
  • Comments: 0