NCO survives attack, fights to continue his Army service
May 11, 2009
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - His decorations include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the combat action badge and an assortment of "lesser" awards. Yet, Sgt. 1st Class Frank Sanders, a maintenance manager with the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's support operations division, is looking for something more.
"I love being a Soldier, and I really believe the U.S. Army is the greatest organization in the world. I want to stay in as long as I possibly can," Sanders said.
Nevertheless, this noncommissioned officer is fully aware of his chosen career's fundamental dangers.
"The Army is serious business; it's not a game. When you take the oath, you are saying, 'I am standing between the enemy and my country,'" he said.
Twenty-one years and two wars into his profession, Sanders has experienced exactly how devastating and grim living that oath can be. Five years ago, he was just two weeks shy of completing his 15-month deployment with the 1st Armored Division's Division Support Command, when the convoy he was traveling in was attacked.
Sanders, the maintenance supervisor for the DISCOM's operations section, was driving the fourth vehicle from the end in what should have been a routine logistics run from Camp Lima, Karbala to Baghdad International Airport. However, once the convoy's gun truck had passed their ambush, the insurgents set off an improvised explosive device followed by a barrage of gun fire.
Sanders was shot in his left shoulder and left hand and the explosion injured the entire left side of his face and his eye.
Tellingly, when Sanders talks about the assault he mentions another casualty.
"Lt. Col. (Miguel) Martinez was injured, too. He went into heatstroke working on me. How do you ever thank someone for that kind of caring and consideration'" Sanders said.
Then, there is the version told by Lt. Col. William McCoy, the 21st TSC's deputy command chaplain, who served in Iraq with Sanders.
"I have known him for the past eight years, and he is always the same - steady as a rock. His leadership as an NCO is exemplified by the fact that he had volunteered to drive the unarmored Humvee, filling in for another Soldier, when the vehicle blew up on him. Yet, he never became bitter - even in the hospital he was upbeat and positive," McCoy said.
McCoy also recalls that when he needed a chapel built, he ended up with an 800-square-foot building, almost single-handedly designed and built by Sanders.
"In extremely austere conditions with no modern conveniences, Sgt. Sanders decided to take the project on himself. He worked non-stop for about three months, with only one Iraqi, the chaplain's assistant and myself to help," he said.
Since then, Sanders has endured six major surgeries and continues to go back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., about every five months.
Nonetheless he remains matter of fact and grateful.
For instance, he is grateful that the 21st TSC hired him after he was wounded - to him that exemplifies the Army's greatness.
"They told me, 'We want you here. We want you to be a part of our team' - even after I was injured," Sanders said. "The 21st TSC is very good about seeing that the medical needs of wounded Soldiers are met. I think they track my appointments even better than I do," he said.
Despite the surgeries, Sanders has not regained vision in his injured eye and his retina remains precariously detached. However, while he will admit to migraine headaches, the upbeat Soldier does not consider himself disabled.
"I don't feel handicapped, not even at a disadvantage. Sure, there are things I can no longer do. I watch sports on television now while I used to actively play sports. And I am constantly aware of what I am doing and how I am doing it - but that's pretty much it," he said.
The Winona, Miss., native, who enjoys travel and is currently working on his bachelor's in Business Administration, has no time or patience for self-pity.
"I don't regret serving my country and suffering a little for it," he said.
"As a chaplain you look for Soldiers who lead others; Sgt. Sanders does. I've known him through difficult times to combat and back. Today, still, he has nothing but love in his heart; he inspires me," McCoy said.