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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

Reflecting on the death of a friend

Here we are another month down, and that much closer to coming home. Unfortunately the month of March wasn't as quiet and incident free as the past 9 months.

March 26th, 2007

During my time here I have worked everyday except Fridays, because Fridays to the Iraqi people is a "Holiday" much like our Sundays. On some occasions I have worked Fridays due to a mission or to meet a deadline for a project. So I am due a bit of "Comp-Time" not to mention that in February, because of my endeavors to clean up the International Zone I was selected as the NCO of the Month which gives me a bit of recognition and a 1 day pass, but due to mission requirements a whole day is hard to achieve so I will take 2 half days.

Well on March 26th I was going to take one of those half days and relax and to catch some sun by the pool. People who know me know that I love to have a good tan, and with our time here becoming closer to an end, it is time to start on that "overall" tan and to even out my Army tan (hands, face, and neck). So after lunch I went down to my "Hooch" and put on my Physical Training Uniform (PT's) and packed my bag with a towel, iPod, a book, and a bottle of water. Then I walked up to the pool to find a place to lay in worship to the Sun God for an album a side. I don't have an alarm on my watch so I use my iPod as a timer for when it is time to flip. Well after one side I flipped over and started to sun my back.

Well about 4 songs into the album I was listening to I heard a whistling and that isn't a good thing in Iraq! I immediately flipped the chair over my body just in time for the impact of a 107mm rocket about 30 meters (35 yards) from my spot. The impact was a bit deafening and I saw the dirt and shrapnel hitting the pool water. It was then quiet so I got up and started running for cover about 40 meters away. I only made it a few strides when I noticed a woman bleeding pretty well from her face and her white blouse was covered in blood. I knocked her down shielding her up against a wall and checked her out, and then I went back and got my towel to apply pressure to her wound. I called for a medic and I saw a Lieutenant from unit and called for him to get an aid bag. I checked the woman out for any other wounds but she seemed ok. The lieutenant then returned with an aid bag and we dressed her wound with clean gauze and she applied pressure herself to her cheek which I think took a piece of shrapnel which went right through her cheek since there was bleeding inside her mouth as well.

The Lieutenant and I then heard another shout for a medic and we ran off in the direction of the shout and we found a Peruvian Guard semiconscious. We checked his breathing, pulse and for any bleeding, finding none but he was moaning about his neck. We dove into the aid bag and found a neck brace and carefully placed it on him and watched over him until the paramedics and fire department arrived. Once they arrived I went back and gathered my pistol and bag and went inside the Embassy to report in. During all this we were under Duck and Cover but I have no idea how long we were out there because the adrenaline was pumping pretty fast and my training took over so I really never noticed anything going on around me. After reporting in, I finally caught my breath and I was told to go to the Embassy medics to be checked out.

After being checked out and only suffering a little ringing in my ears I was let go to return to work. While I was there I saw the friend of the woman who I had helped and gave her my card if she needed anything and told her that her friend could keep the towel, since it was covered in her blood and I just don't think the laundry people would get it all out. I returned back to my office and talked with my friends telling them everything that happened and just let the adrenaline leave my veins. Anyway for my actions under fire my Command has put me in for the CAB (Combat Action Badge) which is awarded for being directly engaged by the enemy. It is something nice to have but it is one of the things you don't try to get, and personally, I was just doing my job. By the way later I found a piece of shrapnel in my sock and I have it now taped to my dog tags.

March 27th 2007

March 27th will always be a day I will remember. March 27th was just another day and during the day I was continually asked about the day before and told "good job", which I just shook off. The day was pretty uneventful and I did my normal job being out and about in the International Zone. I went back to my "Hooch" for the night at about 1900 (7pm for you civilians). At about 1925 (7:25pm), a rocket flew over our "hooch" and impacted in the near distance around the Embassy itself. We went to Duck and Cover and waited until it was lifted. Once it was lifted we all checked in for accountability. We were informed that SFC Thomas had been wounded and we all were kind of bummed out.

SFC Sean Thomas

At about 2000 my Company Commander called me and told me to get ready so I could drive her to the CSH (Combat Support Hospital). I dressed and ran up to the Embassy and I knew it wasn't going to be good. Once I entered the company area I knew the news wasn't good and I was told by the commander that the trip was off since a number of people were already there. The Command called a "huddle" in a conference room around 2130 for everyone to meet. At 2130 when the first person in the command to enter was the Chaplin I knew the worse had happened. SFC Sean Thomas and a female Contractor were Killed in Action on the road I walk everyday at least 4times a day to go to chow.

The command has taken it rough, and the unit is more tight knit than ever with everyone putting aside their differences and coming together as a family who has a fallen brother. I had known Sean for a number of years and he was a great person to be around cause he was always smiling and joking around. He was also very competitive in sports which also bound us together because we both loved competition. This was Sean's second deployment, with him completing a tour in Afghanistan in 2004 where he met his wife, Carrie. Sean went on leave in September to be there when his wife gave birth to their daughter Alexa, and talk about a proud Daddy. He was always armed with a new picture and boy did he have plans for her. Sean had also just been recently told he had been selected to attend Warrant Officer School. He truly had life by the horns and the world was his to form into whatever he wanted it to be. He was a great guy like I said before and I will miss him and his laugh while playing golf.

On Monday we had a Memorial for SFC Thomas and it was a rough outing. The Chapel was filled to standing room only and it was a very mixed crowd of military and State Dept. employees. General Petraeus (Commander of all Forces in Iraq) and the Ambassador were in attendance. A military memorial is full of traditions which are hard to take. From Taps, to the volley of gunfire, to bagpipes, to final Roll Call it is a hard ceremony to endure for a fallen comrade. We all made it through and we all paid out last respects symbolized by the Helmet on the upside down rifle and a pair of boots.

Moving On

Our unit has come up with ways to remember Sean; KIA bracelets which have become a tradition in the military now to remember a fallen comrade. We are also planning a yearly Memorial Golf Tournament with all proceeds going into a 529 College Fund for his daughter. Carrie and Alexa are now in all our families and we will help them in everyway we can in the future.

It has been now 10 days since the incident and things are returning to somewhat normal. We have started to smile and laugh and we continue on with our duties, but now our mission has changed for everyone. The calendars showing us how much time remains can not move quickly enough, but we will endure and continue to drive on because we all know Sean would never let us quit, he always pushed us in sports and he would push us now to keep going and finish our jobs.

With approximately 84 days left to go, I leave you until the next edition of the Baghdad News!


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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