TSgt Larry Russell has graciously allowed us to share his story.
Thank you for your service TSgt Russell
Have you ever watched a war movie and seen an American soldier hit with an explosion and wondered what that must have been like if they were lucky enough to survive? If they survived, they must have lost a limb or medically transported back to the United States because they sustained a variety of physical injuries. Well I am here to tell you that one of those Airmen that was hit with an explosion was me and l am lucky to be alive to tell you my story and my experience on the day that changed my life forever. I have had a lot of experiences in my life that have significant meaning but none more important than the day I almost lost my life when my vehicle was struck with an Improvised Explosive Device in Balad, Iraq.
Balad, Iraq was my sixth deployment overseas in my Air Force career as a Security Forces member. This was my first deployment doing combat patrols outside the base. My squad consisted of seventeen combat Airmen patrolling in three Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Our mission was to patrol outside the base, build relationships with the local Iraqi villages and stop the terrorists from killing Iraqis and Americans. My squad had trained two months for this deployment. A lot of Americans do not realize that the Air Force does ground combat like the United States Army. During the Iraq war the Army needed help doing ground combat because they were running out of soldiers so, in 2004, Airman from all across the Air Force in different career fields was deployed to help fight the terrorists and liberate Iraq.
I was second in charge of my squad, and my job on this 27th day of August, 2009 was to be truck commander of the lead vehicle in our three-vehicle platoon. We were given a very early morning mission. My squad had arrived in Iraq ten days earlier and this was our third combat patrol outside the base. We were new to the area so were assigned to go out at 4 a.m. and get familiar with the rugged terrain and look for any suspicious activity that the terrorists might be doing. We patrolled through the villages and met some of the locals so we could try and develop healthy relationships with them. We had a very productive day, and we were driving back to the base. We were about half a mile from the South gate as I could see my fellow Airman at the gate protecting Balad Air Base, Iraq and then boom.
At that very moment, I felt an explosion and vibration underneath my feet, and I saw nothing but a cloud of smoke. My body went numb, and I lost consciousness for a few seconds.
When I came too, I saw black and white stars, but at that exact moment, I did what I had been trained to do for months. I begin checking the guys that were with me in our vehicle to see if everyone was safe and not injured. I looked over at my driver and grabbed him to check if he was bleeding and he did the same to me. I then heard a radio transmission from my squad leader asking if everyone was all right. I clicked the radio and said Boss “we are alive, and we are okay." You could have heard a pin drop on the radio after that transmission for the next few seconds, and then our squad breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I had just looked at the clock inside our vehicle, and it said 0828. The rest of our squad, which were in the two vehicles behind me began to get out and do a walking patrol searching for the terrorist who just blew us up. I began radioing the base operations center to tell them what just happened and to get me more patrols to come over and help us out.
It took me a few minutes to call it in but once that was done the five members that were in my vehicle were itching to get out and get the bad guys. When I stepped out of the vehicle, I stumbled a little bit, and it took me a few seconds to get my feet back so I could begin to walk and search around our vehicle to assess the damage. Luckily for my squad and I the damages were not as bad as you would think. Our vehicle suffered some damage to the right front tire and a broken shock, but we were able to drive it back to the base slowly. When we were doing our walk around, we realized what had just exploded underneath our vehicle. It was and improvised explosive device aka roadside bomb. It was an 82 mm shell filled with homemade explosives and surrounded by a pressure plate. Our squad ended up getting in a firefight and tracking down a few villagers that knew who had blown us up but were not be able to find them that day but later on in our deployment we were able to take care of the two individuals who placed the bomb.
When we got back to base, our leadership immediately met us, as they were all checking on us to make sure we were alive. I had a very weird feeling after that because it didn't hit me on what just happened until a few days later. One of the doctors immediately saw me and she informed me that I had a major concussion. I begged her not to put me on rest because I wanted to go back out with my squad the next day and continue our missions. I took a few medical tests but somehow I was able to talk my way out of having to go to the hospital for medical evaluation. Looking back now that was not a very smart idea, but I had one thing on my mind, and that was to protect my country and continue fighting. For the next six months my squad ended up doing over 120 missions, finding three IED’s, four weapon caches, two rocket launchers, seven mortar rounds and the capture of the number one terrorist in and around Balad, Iraq.
That day that I was hit with the explosion changed my life forever. It made me realize not to take life for granted. It forced me to appreciate everything in my life and how fortunate I am to be alive and tell people about this day. It was a day that I have relived several times in my mind. It has taken me almost seven years of remorse to be able to tell this story. It was an experience that bonded seventeen airmen together and made us a Band of Brothers for the rest of our lives. I have experienced many things, but nothing compares to 8:28 a.m. on August 27, 2009, the day that my vehicle was struck with an Improvised Explosive Device and I almost died in combat in Balad, Iraq. You have now met an American Airman that does not have any visible wounds but a lot of mental and emotional wounds but I was willing to tell my story.
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