<p>HONOLULU - When Sgt. Nathan Rolens packed for his return to Honolulu last week, one item - a pea-sized pebble - took priority. In fact, the pebble was so special, Rolens decided to carry it on the flight with him.</p><p>That's because two months ago, that pebble was lodged nearly two-inches deep in Rolens' forearm, along with several other pieces of shrapnel that penetrated his right arm and left leg, when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded beneath his Stryker vehicle. </p><p>After recovering at Fort Sam Houston's Brooke Army Medical Center, Rolens returned to a family-style, hero's welcome, Sept. 17. </p><p>An hour before his flight landed, nine Soldiers and family readiness group members (FRG) from Rolens' unit, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment "Gimlets," gathered in the airport's USO office. </p><p> "We try to come for the (rest and recuperations), too," FRG member Adriane Fitzhugh said. </p><p>Fitzhugh and Grace Martelo decorated a sign that read, "Welcome home Sgt. Rolens!" Others filled a gift bag with snacks. </p><p>A few feet away, Spc. Adrian Delacruz and Staff Sgt. Erwin Saddi chatted in the USO's La-Z-Boy chairs. </p><p> "This is my first one," Delacruz said, referring to his being part of the welcoming party. The last time, the unit welcomed him home. </p><p>Delacruz and Saddi returned to Honolulu in July within two days of each other after being injured in separate IED incidents. Saddi suffered a broken fibula; Delacruz suffered broken bones in his back, jaw and ankle. </p><p> "(I'm) getting better physically.</p><p>Still dealing with it mentally," Delacruz said. </p><p>After checking in with airline staff, the group proceeded through the security checkpoint to the arrival gate to greet Rolens. Many commented how unique it was to be able to actually meet someone at the gate in the post-Sept. 11 era. </p><p> "You can really surprise them and give them a hero's welcome," said Maj. Adelaido Godinez, rear detachment commander, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. </p><p>As Rolens noticed the group, he threw his arms in the air and flashed a huge grin. </p><p>One by one, members of the group welcomed Rolens with hugs and lei. </p><p> "Dang! You came, too'" Rolens said to Saddi as they hugged. </p><p>Saddi was injured in the same explosion as Rolens but returned to Tripler Army Medical Center for recovery. Rolens said the Army often gives wounded warriors a choice in medical centers to allow them to be closer to their families while they recover. Rolens' hometown, Caty, Texas, was less than three hours from Brooke Army Medical Center. </p><p> "I was shocked," Rolens said of the welcome party. "It's kinda like a family coming since I don't have any family here." </p><p>A few minutes later, as Rolens waited for his bags, he recalled the events that brought him here. </p><p><b>Setting the scene</b>
Both Rolens and Saddi described the morning of July 8 as a routine patrol. Their unit was securing the perimeter of a joint security station with the Iraqi Police near Camp Liberty, northwest of Baghdad. </p><p>Suddenly, an IED tore through their Stryker vehicle. </p><p> "My first thought was panic, but that went away real quick," Rolens said. "Then training kicked in. </p><p> "The radios weren't working ... it was really stressful," Rolens said, with a dazed look on his face, as though he were watching the story unfold in slow motion on the baggage claim monitor. </p><p>As the vehicle commander, Rolens was stationed in the front of the vehicle. Saddi manned the machine gun at the rear air guard hatch. </p><p> "I thought all my Soldiers (were) dead," Saddi said. He said he quickly began checking vital signs and noticed a lot of blood around the three-foot hole created by the IED. </p><p>Pfc. Trampus Miller, the remote weapons system operator, was wedged between a seat and a hatch, screaming. He later freed himself and suffered minor injuries. </p><p>The medic, Cpl. William McMillan III, died instantly. </p><p>After unsuccessfully attempting to open the rear door from the inside, Saddi climbed out the rear hatch. Rolens made his way out the front hatch. Both came to the vehicle's rear, opened the door, and began helping the injured. </p><p>Soldiers in other Stryker vehicles secured the perimeter and searched for possible secondary IEDs. </p><p>While Rolens assisted others, his squad leader Staff Sgt. Frank Enriquez, told him to sit down. </p><p> "The shirt I had on was just blood - all the way down my ribs," Rolens said. "I didn't realize I was injured as bad as I was. I guess my arm was just gushing blood." </p><p> "This guy's a hero," Saddi said. </p><p>Though he didn't receive an award for his actions that day, Rolens did receive a Bronze Star for his actions three months earlier in Sadr City. </p><p>He and four Soldiers ambushed five would-be IED emplacers, killing three of them. One of the remaining insurgents gave himself up, and the other got away. </p><p>As Rolens and the other Soldiers checked the bodies for weapons, an IED detonated within 30 yards of them. Rolens speculated that the insurgent who got away may have had a remote detonator. </p><p>Just days before this incident, Rolens had witnessed his first IED, but at a distance and from a Stryker vehicle. </p><p> "They got me on the third one," he said. </p><p>Rolens placed his souvenir pebble back in its plastic bottle and into his backpack. Finally, his last bag appeared on the carousel. </p><p> "It's always the last one," Rolens said, joking. </p><p>As the group made its way to the parking structure, FRG member Grace Martelo handed Rolens another souvenir, the welcome home sign she and Fitzhugh had made. </p><p> "Thanks. I'm gonna hang this on my wall," Rolens said.</p>

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16