23 December, 2006 is a day that will be burnt into my memory for life. That morning, my Company (Fox Co, 4-31 Infantry Forward Support) awoke for a mission around 0430hrs (430am), Local time in Yusefiyah, Iraq, in the heart of an area known as the "Triangle of Death". Specialist Christopher "Chuck" Norris, and the rest of his squad mounted up in his M1114 Armored Humvee for a LOG-PACK (Logistics Package...Basically a re-supply convoy). I was awake because I was the Maintenance Platoon's Service and Recovery Support for that mission. I was on stand-by in case I needed to go out to get a vehicle. Its a good thing I was, because I ended up doing just that.
At 0830hrs, I got a call on the radio with the location of an IED blast. Then came the casualties. We were in a convoy, standing by with myself (Service/Recovery), Medics for CASEVAC (Casualty Evac), and 2 squads of Infantry for Protection. We started our trucks and rolled out to the site. On the way we recieved the Battle Roster Numbers of the casualties...there was only one. For the sake of security I cannot divulge his number, but they are easy to identify, no 2 soldiers have the same number, and you are supposed to know your buddies'. I knew who it was as soon as it came over the radio. They were calling for Dustoff, the Helicopter Medivac, but clearance was denied because the area was too hot, we rolled in shortly after the news of this was relayed. I pulled up to the drivers side of SPC Norris' Humvee. It was still mostly intact, as far as I could see immediately. I dismounted and soon found out otherwise. I ran around to the passenger side of the truck and found a hole right under the seat where Chuck was sitting. I immediately looked around. We found him in a field 50 feet away. The Explosion went through the bottom of the Humvee, took the batteries (that sit under the passenger seat), along with the passenger seat, snapped the seatbelt, and ejected the occupant of said seat, in this case, SPC Norris. The Bomb was what we call a Shaped-Charge. It was HME (homemade explosive) that was shaped in a canister/container in such a way to direct the force of the explosion primarily in one direction. In this case (as you can see by the pix) it was straight up.
We rushed to Norris' side, there was blood everywhere. It was not my first time seeing something like this. I knew, almost instantly, that he probably was not going to make it. Myself and a medic managed to get him breathing again using CPR, but he did not stay that way for long. It had to now be around 0930, and we could not get him stable enough to move, but we began taking fire. We had to move him, so we did. We drug him back between my wrecker and his disabled truck. We continued to treat him, but he was bleeding internally and externally, and another 10 minutes or so passed before the enemy fire was suppressed enough to allow the MEDIVAC choppers to land.
It was too late. He stopped breathing for the 5th and final time. We could not resuscitate him. We were relieved by in-flight doctors from the choppers. We proceeded to continue our recovery of the truck and headed back to our FOB (Forward Operating Base). We found out after pulling into the FOB and dropping our gear, that the doctors on board the helicopter tried to resuscitate, to now avail, all the way to the Combat Surgical Hospital (CaSH-a 10 minute flight). His official time of death was called at 0948am, 23 DEC 2006.
A damned shame this. I am a man, and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried for several days. This man, a son, a father, a husband, and a friend had died the day before Christmas Eve, Defending the freedom of people to celebrate said holiday. It tore me apart, thinking of the news the family would recieve. Sure enough, the Chaplian and Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) Arrived at his wife's door, in Class A (Dress) Uniform, at 0800hrs on Christmas Day. Chuck's daughter and son were opening presents. Mrs. Norris opened the door...and knew instantly what had happened when she saw the uniform. I spoke to her recently and got an account of all this. She said when she opened the door, she fell to her knees and screamed.
I could not help but question my faith at that point. Why would God take away a father and ruin a holiday for an entire family, forever? Eventually I came to my senses, and realized it wasnt the first time, and it wont be the last. I justified it the only way it made sense...Freedom.
So this holiday season, Don't forget the men and women who wont be home for this Holiday, or any more holidays. Personally, I set an empty place at my table every holiday, for the soldier who didn't make it home.