Monday, July 18, 2005

In the Sandbox...

'They shoot at us, we shoot back'
-By Steve Liewer, Stars and Stripes

"Staff Sgt. Michael Broner lay on a cot on July 8, 2004, in Patrol Base Razor’s crude barracks, an air-conditioned refuge against the fierce July heat of Samarra, Iraq. Suddenly a soldier ran in the front door, shouting something about a truck and a bomb. Broner heard a crash in the front of the room, then started scrambling over the cots of sleeping soldiers toward the back door. He waited for the explosion he knew would follow.

“I was saying to myself, it didn’t blow,” said Broner, 32, of the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. “And then it blew.” An explosion from the bomb-laden sport utility vehicle leveled the concrete barracks room, crushing to death five U.S. and two Iraqi soldiers and hurting two dozen others. Four of the dead were members of Broner’s mortar platoon.

Later, Broner would learn the bomber, wearing a police uniform and driving a police vehicle, was allowed inside the compound, then plowed his vehicle into the barracks. As the SUV exploded, it collapsed the front and outside wall on top of the 11 soldiers inside. Broner doesn’t remember hearing the blast or seeing the fireball. But he felt the explosion, which sent him flying 20 feet. “It blew right through me,” he recalled. “The first [wave] lifted me up, and the second one pushed me forward.”

A pile of debris landed on top of Broner, leaving him mostly buried. He stumbled out of the rubble as a few soldiers who had been outside, like Spc. Matthew Campbell, 22, waded in to pull out the dead and injured. The car bomb had only begun a large insurgent attack on Razor. The insurgents began lobbing rockets and mortars and firing automatic weapons. Broner made his way to the fire-direction center. From there, he could talk to 1-26 Infantry commanders a few miles away. “It was just a natural reaction,” he said. “To me, it was like a regular thing: they shoot at us, we shoot back.”

His squad nearly wiped out by the blast, Broner at first had only Spc. Travis Wright to fire the mortars. Eventually, Campbell and Sgt. Matthew Shepherd, who had helped dig through the bombed building, would help as well. Broner kept the battalion up on the progress of the battle while watching his screen and coordinating three counter-battery mortar missions. The survivors, boosted by reinforcements and air support, fought off the rebel attack.

Only later did Broner realize that the blast had broken his right arm, burst his eardrums and lacerated him with shrapnel. Through it all he stayed at his post, leaving only when a medic urged him to go with the other injured to the aid station. “They said I needed to go,” he recalled. “With the adrenaline flowing, you just don’t realize [you‘re hurt].” His injuries earned Broner a ticket back to his wife and four children in Germany. He lobbied to return to Iraq as soon as his arm healed. His unit allowed him to return in November. “I just had to be there for the soldiers,” Broner said. “It was like closure — finishing what I started.”

In April, shortly after his unit returned from Iraq, Broner received a Bronze Star with “V.” Like many decorated soldiers, he has mixed feelings about his medal. “It’s a great honor,” he said. “But if I could give it up and bring those guys back, I would.” (source)

...Airborne girls...
1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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