A Soldier's Death on a Stunning Day in Iraq
We stop by the Iraqi Army post nearby to pick up the Iraqi soldiers and their trucks, then head out toward the town. Our humvee also has a bag of a dozen or so stuffed animals. Sgt. Maj. Eddie Del Valle, riding shotgun, has a large teddy bear in mind for a particular young girl who comes out nearly every day to wave at the convoy as it passes. He points her out to Capt. Christopher Whitten, the gunner. He then makes gentle fun of Whitten's throwing skills as he attempts to hurl the bear in her direction.
We head past a place called Mufrek circle along a notorious stretch in Baqubah where every hundred yards or so, sections of the curb are blown out, one of Iraq's countless IED alleys. Ahead, a couple of packs of dogs trot by. We laugh about a soldier who has nicknamed the dog packs the sharks and the jetsand another who has spotted a couple of cats running with one of the dog gangs. Someone points out that if that ridiculous and unlikely group can get along, maybe anyone can.
We then enter one of the silent stretches, the soldiers quietly scanning.
That's when we hear an explosion ahead, very near the front of our convoy.
In times like these, for a few seconds, soldiers simply hold their breath and listen to their radios.
What everyone is hoping to hear is the "all clear, drive ahead," but what comes that late afternoonand what comes every day for soldiers across the country hereis another, more frantic call. It is after about 10 long seconds that this one comes through: "I need a medic! I need a medic!" Karcher is yelling.
The medic is in our humvee.
We speed up the road, all the while Sergeant Major Del Valle, riding shotgun, keeps a close eye out for possible secondary explosions that all too often come on the heels of a first detonation, targeting backup as it arrives.
We soon enter a dense cloud of smoke. Visibility is zero as the hit humvee continues its frantic call for a medic.
We have overshot the truck in the smoke, and so we cross the raised median, drive 50 yards down, then circle back across the median again, all the while looking for the hit humvee. Visibility is still next to nothing as we continue to barrel at top speed through the smoke.
We hear gunfire and more yelling. We drive another 20 yards, then cross the raised median again. As the smoke thins a bit, we spot it. The driver, a soldier from Louisiana, has been hit, and the humvee has veered off the far side of the road.
We pull up beside the hit humvee to give it cover in the midst of gunfire (mostly precautionary Iraqi Army fire, we later learn) and to let out the medic, Sgt. Chester Jones, as his fellow soldiers pull the injured soldier's slumped body out of the blasted driver's-side doora door that bears a perfect hole at head level.