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.
He was at sea when the 9/11 attacks occurred, then he was locked down at Camp Pendleton. Finally, Marine Bart Cole was given leave at home. Everybody knew there would be some action soon, and a deployment to Afghanistan was scheduled and then cancelled. Disenchanted, he left the Corps and went to college, but he felt left out.
When the Navy restarted the Riverine squadrons for use in Iraq, Adam Walton volunteered. First he had to become a Marine for all intents and purposes and he did that at Camp Lejeune. The boats and crews were small but the armament was potent.
Bart Cole had a Humvee blown out from under him. The squad leader wasn't seriously injured, but one of his Marines took a round and was evacuated. He wrote the man's family to offer support, something he learned from one of his mentoring sergeants.
His first tour of Iraq was during summer and it was blazing hot. Second time around for Adam Walton, it was winter and it was freezing, but that was OK. He was a Michigander. His Navy Riverine unit was a tight knit bunch and they remain so to this day.
His family fled the persecution of the Hmong after the fall of South Vietnam and wound up in California. Charlie Moua has a hard time believing how the youth of today could mouth support for communism as a system of government.
There was a lot of military service in his family, but Adam Walton resisted the calling. Somehow he enlisted in the Navy when he was badgered by a recruiter to join the Marines. He loved his first assignment aboard a sub tender based in Guam. It was a perfect spot for a young man.
What just happened to us? Bart Cole, along with many others, asked himself that question when he returned from Iraq. It was difficult to just absorb back into society. He stayed in the Marine Reserve and, eventually, his service was again needed overseas.
It was shortly after he saw the 9/11 attacks unfold on television that Charlie Moua decided to enlist. He chose the Marines, figuring they would put some guts in him. Because of high test scores, they put him in supply and logistics, which was not entirely to his liking.
All the bad stuff happened at the bridge. You rotated between three posts in the small Iraqi town and for the men of Blackhawk 1-9 Cav, the bridge was where you didn't want to be. Thomas Wells remembers that place well and he also remembers trying to keep good relations with the locals, whom he always tried to treat with respect.
When Iraqis went to the polls on election day, Adam Walton was patrolling waterways in a Riverine Squadron boat, helping to ensure their new right of a free vote. The hours could be long out there and you had to be creative to get through it.
When Corpsman Joseph Poquiz got to Iraq with his Marine unit, he quickly found out that his medical kit made him a target. He split it up and concealed it, adapting like he was taught. The insurgents made IED's from a huge array of old munitions and detonation devices including one made from discarded IV tubing.
The insurgents used several vehicles as they were attacking the perimeter of the Abu Ghraib complex. The last was driven by a suicide bomber, but he was blown up before he could get anywhere. Bart Cole had to go collect what was left of the driver. A young Marine said he wanted to look inside the body bag. No, kid, you don't.
After completing his training as a Navy Corpsman, Joseph Poquiz was attached to the 3rd Marine Division in Hawaii. They were destined for Iraq after some field exercises. On his first night in the desert, he was amazed at all the stars. On his first day at the forward base, they were hit with an IED.
It was just a quick comment from a commander to a lowly recruit, but what Thomas Wells heard that day completely changed his state of mind and helped him get through basic training. As he traveled to his first duty station, another chance meeting with a superior worked out well for him.
He had been through Navy basic training and the first school for Corpsmen. For Joseph Poquiz, it was almost like learning a new language. He learned how to "sweep" the body and locate any injury. The next stop was the Field Medical Service School, which was like basic all over again, harder even.
Thomas Wells was adopted into a large family in Omaha which gave him a good environment in which to grow up. His folks decided he needed some discipline, though, as he neared the end of high school, and they informed him he would be joining the Army. He found some good role models in the DI's at Fort Benning.
Larry Draughn loved being a Marine and he looked forward to deploying to Iraq. He did have one problem, though. His upcoming marriage was going to cause him some trouble with the Corps. His advice? Get it in writing or, better yet, get married before you join.
During his second tour of Iraq, Corpsman Joseph Poquiz was based in Fallujah, where he helped train medics in the Iraqi police force. He knew some of them were former insurgents, but it was an important task, helping them establish some order in the war torn country.
Larry Draughn deployed to Iraq in early 2008. The majority of the work was winning hearts and minds in the local populace. He recalls the time a local landowner mistook a night patrol for insurgents. He nearly got a rude surprise. (Caution: strong language.)
For Joseph Poquiz, life changed forever on September 11, 2001. The entire baseball team at his high school wanted to enlist in the Marines. He had already decided on the medical field. "That's a Corpsman," one of the guys said. He started running and getting in shape.
The two main concerns were IED's and the occasional sniper. Marine Larry Draughn was on patrol when he noticed that he was right in the middle of something he'd seen on TV. He had a bit of trust in the locals, but that all changed after a fateful conference with a local sheikh.
His family had its share of Marines and sailors. Joseph Poquiz came from a background of appreciation for the opportunity you have in America. He decided that it was in the medical field that he could do his best service to others.
Larry Draughn embraced the trials and tribulations of Marine boot camp. He had a lot of respect for the DI's, who were recent combat vets. Between boot camp and the School of Infantry, he had a solemn task to deal with, the death of his father.
When Larry Draughn made his picks for possible duty stations, he put Hawaii first. Fat chance, right? But he got it and with his fiance he went to the Pacific. He was a replacement in a fabled Marine outfit and there was a senior Marine there to help the new guys get settled.