Bradley's combat history part of museum
July 17, 2009
- Bradley on display at National Infantry Museum was used in combat operations with 1st Bn., 22nd Inf. Regt., 4th Inf. Div.
- Battalion's former commander writing account of Bradley's last days in Iraq
- Bradley struck by anti-tank mine during patrol through Bayjii, Iraq
The refurbished remains of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle are all that remains of SGT James E. Powell's sacrifice one October morning in 2003.
A new coat of paint and a large metal plate disguise the damage from an anti-tank mine that blasted through the underbelly of the Bradley, sending its engine soaring into the air, killing the driver and wounding Soldiers inside.
Six years later, a journey that began with a combat patrol along the outskirts of Bayjii, Iraq, ended at the National Infantry Museum as the Bradley that carried Powell and other 1st Battalion Soldiers into combat operations found a permanent home inside the museum's signature exhibit, "The Last 100 Yards."
"I hadn't seen this Bradley since November 2003," said LTC(R) Steve Russell, the former commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, who now serves as a senator in Oklahoma and chairman of Vets for Victory. "It's pretty moving to know one of our Bradleys used in battle overseas is here."
In Russell's soon-to-be-published book about the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein, a chapter titled, As Long As We Have Breath, details the final days of the Bradley, known as "Bravo 1-4," and the Soldiers of B Company.
"Rifle companies were patrolling in Bradley's and conducting bomb sweeps along the main routes. Foot patrols had been reduced to almost nothing," he wrote.
B Company, attached to the division's 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, patrolled an area north of Tikrit, Iraq, along the outskirts of Bayjii known to Soldiers as "The Projects," Russell said.
In the book, Russell recalled that the Soldiers weren't welcome in the neighborhood.
On Oct. 3, 2003, a squad of Soldiers in two Bradleys rumbled toward the town early in the morning and noticed an absence of people, he said.
As the convoy moved closer to town, an anti-tank mine blasted through the Bradley, leaving a spray of engine parts and road wheels along the ground, Russell said.
"Bravo 1-4 lay like a snake, gutted and broken," he said.
As Soldiers evacuated the disabled vehicle and established a perimeter, they discovered the blast killed Powell, wounded other Soldiers and left a 4-foot gaping hole in the Bradley's bottom, Russell said.
Powell, from Mark Center, Ohio, was days away from completing his enlistment and returning home to his family. But instead of being greeted with "Welcome Home" banners and hugs from his wife and 2-year-old daughter, he returned with an Honor Guard escort and a flag flown half-staff in his honor.
An M-88 recovery vehicle picked up the Bradley to tow back to camp, Russell said.
The Bradley caught fire but the crew continued to tow it to the battalion's combat outpost, even as ammunition within the Bradley began to "cook off," he said.
"Since (the Bradley) was armored, it caused no harm to those outside of it but the vehicle (was) a total mess," he said.
On Oct. 15, the Soldiers gathered around the burned-out Bradley for a memorial service to honor Powell and another Soldier, SPC Donald L. Wheeler Jr., who was also killed in combat.
In early November, the burned-out shell of the Bradley was shipped back to the states, Russell said.
Russell, certified as an Army historian, attempted to secure a vehicle as an artifact, but said his request was denied.
After the unit redeployed to Fort Hood, Texas, Russell found out a vehicle request was approved. Russell assembled a team to pick it up from Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas, and transported it to Fort Hood.
It was an emotional moment, Russell said.
"We had requested a Bradley to preserve the memory of our Soldiers, but I hadn't expected to ever see one we actually fought in again," he said.
Thanks to many agencies, the Bradley found a home at the National Infantry Museum, Russell said.
Russell got his first look at Bravo 1-4's improved appearance after the museum opened last month.
"I'm grateful the museum kept the company's bumper numbers on the Bradley and put combat loads on it the way it was used in battle," he said when he visited the museum to coordinate a future memorial to the 22nd Inf. Regt. "I was very concerned that they keep a semblance of history with it."
Russell said the Bradley gives him and other members of the regiment a connection to the Soldiers who served and died with them, such as Powell and Wheeler.
"We mourn their loss; we honor their sacrifice. As long as 'Regulars' draw breath, we shall not forget them," Russell said at a memorial service in 2003 for Powell and Wheeler.
Editor's note: All information and copyrighted excerpts were reprinted with the permission of LTC(R) Steve Russell.