8:45 | When the vehicle hit an IED, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz was in the doorway and took most of the blast. All he could think of as he looked down at his shattered body was how long it would take before he could get back to his buddies, but he was beginning a long road to recovery. (Caution: strong language.) Part 1 of 2.
Keywords : Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz Iraq Purple Heart Improvised Explosive Device (IED) shrapnel medic Veterans Administration (VA)
Hailing from the island of Puerto Rico, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz wanted to join the military from a very early age. Numerous relatives had served and he wanted to do the same. He was asked during processing if he wanted to attend English language school before basic training. It sounded like a good idea.
His first duty station was in Vilseck, Germany with the 1st Infantry Division. Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz connected with other Puerto Rican soldiers and was out on the town with them when he spotted a familiar face at the bar.
Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz wanted to deploy to Iraq and he got his wish. The spartan conditions were bearable, but he had a sergeant who badgered him about his English and relegated him to KP duty. Fortunately, he was able to move to another company, where he was wanted, with the help of some breakfast cereal.
While in Iraq, Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz got the idea he wanted to go to Ranger school. He began hard physical training with Rangers in his unit and one of them had an unorthodox idea. Why not provoke his platoon sergeant? (Caution: strong language.)
It was his first big firefight. When Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz stepped from his vehicle during a siege at an Iraqi police station, the battle was raging around him. This was what he signed up for. While clearing an alley, he took out some insurgents on a roof, but the remaining ones were angered and sent an RPG his way. (Caution: strong language.)
Hand to hand combat was a popular pastime in his platoon. Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz was considered the number two and a guy who outweighed him by a hundred pounds and was a foot taller was number one. That ranking changed.
Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz remembers two things from Iraq that were unrelated to combat, an Iraqi youth he was fond of and a dinner with a General.
Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz describes the long road back to health after being hit with an IED blast in Iraq. Complicated surgeries and slow bureaucracies were what he faced for years, but he did find some allies in the non-profit organizations dedicated to helping wounded veterans. Part 2 of 2.
No regrets. That's how Emmanuel Melendez-Diaz feels about his service, even though he was severely injured. The bond with the others in his unit is as strong as ever and the future looks to him to be full of opportunity.
His National Guard unit was activated, trained and deployed, and Dale Beatty was on his way to Iraq. Nothing had prepared him for what he experienced when the ramp dropped on the plane and the heat and the smell of the desert engulfed him. As he moved from Kuwait into Iraq, he looked over the civilians around him in his convoy. Are these the guys who are going to shoot at me?
Within four days of being injured in Iraq, Dale Beatty was at Walter Reed hospital in Maryland where his wife was waiting. During his recovery, he was inspired by the actions of those who helped him to do something himself to help other wounded veterans.
Getting a medical evacuation in Iraq was cathartic but he managed to recover and had a good team behind him to save his life. Returning home was a real challenge as he had to cope with everything that had happened.
The enemy had learned not to directly engage American troops in Iraq. Their main tactic was the use of IED's, improvised explosive devices of several kinds that were almost impossible to spot. Blake Bourne found one of them when he decided to take a different route one day.
Though he was severely injured in Iraq, Dale Beatty has no animosity towards anyone. He acknowledges the good leaders that he had in the Army, who all shared one important quality which he tried to emulate, and he shares an experience he had in an Iraqi family's home that gave him a sobering perspective on our mission there.
Blake Bourne's second deployment to Iraq was more exhausting than his first, not because of more action, but because of less. He spent long night shifts staring at a computer screen, monitoring less and less action as the war wound down. Eventually, he was one of the last soldiers to leave Iraq.
Blake Bourne expected to do cool "guy stuff" involving weaponry and bombs when he joined the Army. He remembered that and laughed when he had to navigate nearly impossible logistics to supply an ice cream social for some Arab sheikhs.
Understanding how the military operated while stationed in Kosovo became essential for Tommy Rieman and it gave him a good first step towards future deployments. Deciding to re-enlist and go to Germany was a very exciting next step for him.
Doug Heckman had been part of the initial Special Forces leadership in Afghanistan and in 2005 he volunteered for Iraq. He and his men got their combat badges the very first day when an IED hit their convoy. He says the Iraqi people are like people anywhere and were very hospitable to him.
While unloading equipment from one of the milvan containers in Balad, Iraq, there was suddenly some indirect fire. Steve Hamlet discusses the experience and describes it as being “unnerving” and “shocking” when experiencing it for the first time. He also touches on the role of embedded reporters and the significant amount of falsified information found in their reports.
Doug Heckman returned for a second Iraq tour and chipped a golf ball into Saddam's lake at the Grand Palace on his birthday. This was the wrap up to a great career and he reflects on that and on the relationship between Americans and their warriors.
Working with the Iraqi Army was difficult because they didn't have the same sense of nationalism as American troops. As the war went on, it got increasingly difficult, especially as the casualties started to mount.
During 9/11, Tommy Rieman was on guard waiting to act if necessary, which they ended up having to do for a training mission. Deploying to Iraq was a transition after his time in Kosovo but they were prepared to do whatever they needed to do.
Mike Schlitz is very proud of being a Ranger and stands by everything that that stands for. At the end of the day, he is glad that he served his country and would do it again in a heartbeat.
The surge was succeeding but at a price. Doug Heckman liked riding in the lead vehicle but was in the second one the day Captain Shawn English had the lead and took the brunt of the blast from an IED. This altered his view of how high the bar should be set for military commitment.
Being a female soldier in Iraq allowed Christina Cross to be very influential especially among the women & children that they came in contact with. By learning what Iraqi women were good at, they were able to create a Women's Business Center that let the women sew, knit and create products that they were later able to sell at the bazaar.
National Guardsman Dale Beatty was at work when he saw the 9/11 attacks unfold on TV. He knew immediately that he would be going to war soon. That was confirmed when he was sent to California for desert training. After further training at Fort Bragg, his unit readied to deploy.
Mike Schlitz tells of his time going back to Iraq the 3 times after his injury and how it helped him through the healing process. He defines what a hero means to him and the impact that his mentors have had on his life.
It was an old Iraqi Air Force base in northern Iraq that the Americans settled into and began to fortify and improve. Dale Beatty noted the grass and trees near the base and they gave him the idea that maybe they were far enough north to avoid the heat of the desert. He was wrong. The base kept taking fire from the surrounding area, so patrols were started to find and eliminate the threat.
Growing up with both parents as Marines, Christina Cross grew up with a military influence in her family that caused her to want to join. Living on a military base as a kid was very influential for her and helped give her a sense of what it was like. She still remembers the influence that 9/11 had on her life and desire to join the service.
Patrick Sauer remembers the difference between pre and post-9/11 America, especially the changes that happened in the military. Hearing what happened to one of his college friends on United 93 spurred him to push for overseas deployment.
Growing up, Mike Schlitz knew that he needed the discipline that being in the military would provide. After he joined up, he knew he had the drive to succeed in the military and move up the ranks.