"Third time's the charm" for Purple Heart recipient
December 23, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Staff Sgt. Justin Taylor, a Lancaster, Pa., native and assistant platoon sergeant for the 733rd Transportation Company, 395th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), stationed in Reading, Pa., received a Purple Heart at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building here Dec. 17 for an injury sustained after a roadside bomb hit his convoy near Sinjar, Iraq, Aug. 30.
Staff Sgt. Taylor was the truck commander for a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle in a convoy when his vehicle was hit, leaving him with traumatic brain injury.
"I was in the lead scout vehicle scanning with the spotlight. I saw something go under the [mine roller] and I knew what it was ... it was an [improvised explosive devise]," Taylor said.
"I called on the radio 'IED! IE ...'" he said, motioning with his hands and making a boom sound. "But I didn't get to say it again."
Taylor recalled that the truck started to go off the road, tipping precariously to one side.
"I said 'prepare for rollover' but it didn't roll over," Taylor explained, praising the good work his driver did to prevent the situation from becoming worse.
Taylor said he checked to make sure his crew was uninjured and then climbed onto the gunner's platform to man the .50 caliber machine gun for security.
"I stood up ... started feeling dizzy and nauseous," Taylor recalled.
He was evacuated to a nearby marine base for medical attention.
"The last thing I remember is a half-naked marine giving instructions," he said.
"I want to thank Sloan, Enriquez ... Frank and the medic who helped me," Taylor said, attributing their actions to the reason he was still alive.
Taylor's doctor diagnosed him with traumatic brain injury, an injury not readily visible to the eye but one that may have substantial effects on the injured.
"I couldn't read. I couldn't write. I couldn't type. I was messed up for awhile," Taylor said.
"Eventually, I started doing puzzles and reading books, trying to stimulate my brain."
Taylor recovered from his injury, returned to duty, and was able to walk up on stage to receive his Purple Heart, a fact that Col. Larry Phelps, the 15th Sust. Bde. commander and Greenville, Ala., native, said was very fortunate as many Purple Heart recipients are not able to do so.
Phelps also said that people in support jobs, like Taylor and the rest of the 15th Sust. Bde., do most of the work but get the least amount of recognition.
"What don't get the 'at-a-boys' ... we get the miles," he said.
Phelps said that he wanted Taylor's to be the last Purple Heart he awarded.
Though this was Taylor's first time to be seriously injured in an explosion, it was not the first time that a convoy he was in was hit by a roadside bomb or attacked, he said.
"Third time's the charm. It took three IEDs to finally get me," Taylor explained with a smirk.
Taylor said he was on his second deployment when he received the injury that gained him the Purple Heart, but during his first tour in Iraq in 2003 he had to deal with roadside bombs twice.
During the first attack, Taylor said his convoy was driving palletized loading systems, a kind of cargo vehicle, carrying washers and driers for his unit that they needed.
"We were washing our clothes with washboards ... we were so excited," he said.
None of the washers or driers made it intact as a chain of roadside bombs destroyed them and Taylor's truck, he said.
"I had just gotten my truck out of the shop too!" Taylor remembered, shaking his head.
The second attack wasn't directed at Taylor's convoy, but a convoy driving not far in front of his, he said. They were near a long bridge when they saw smoke on the other side from a convoy that was hit by a roadside bomb and then attacked by insurgents with small-arms fire.
When Taylor's convoy arrived, they returned fire and the enemy quickly scattered.
When Taylor got out of his vehicle to help the injured, he saw multiple dead bodies around a Humvee that was hit, one of which he didn't recognize at first to even be human, he said.
"I thought it was a sack of potatoes or something."
He recalled hearing a corporal screaming for help nearby. When he went to investigate he came upon a major whose arm was gone.
"I did CPR till I had muscle failure," Taylor said.
He said that a medic tried to get him to stop as the major was dead, but he refused.
"I had a pulse at first ... but there was nothing I could really do," he said solemnly.
Of the humvee's four passengers only one was not thrown from the vehicle and survived the explosion.
"He was the only one with a seatbelt on," Taylor said.
"I don't remember his name, but he had some great tattoos ... all he wanted to do was see his son again."
For his actions that day, Taylor was awarded the bronze star.
Though Taylor was awarded the bronze star, Purple Heart, and received other commendations, he did not consider himself a hero.
"You want to look at a hero' Go see my wife first. My wife's a hero," he said, because of the hardship she endured over the years as a result of her husband's military service.
Taylor, who said his family had a strong military tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War, said that in spite of everything, he plans to reenlist here and finish the six years he needs to reach retirement.
"I might as well finish what I started."