By Henry Cuningham, Fayetteville OnlineSeptember 15, 2006
When Spc. Michael P. Chatman and other combat engineers go out in front of convoys to clear hidden explosives, they know their chances of being hurt are a "little bit higher."On May 7, Chatman was driving the second Humvee in a convoy on a gravel road in Afghanistan when he noticed a suspicious piece of plastic leaning against a rock on the side of the road.Later, he would wonder whether the plastic was marking a homemade bomb or, as the Army calls them, improvised explosive devices or IEDs.Chatman said the first Humvee to drive past did not activate it."I came along, following right behind it in its tire tracks, and the IED blew the Humvee up in the air, turned it sideways in the road and slammed it back down on the ground," Chatman said.Someone riding behind them in the convoy said Chatman's vehicle lifted several feet off the ground."It was just a really loud explosion at first," he said. "I didn't really know what happened. ... Loud noise. Lot of smoke. I felt like I was flying for a second. Then I felt the Humvee impact with the ground. Smoke cleared."Chatman's right leg was broken in the explosion. No one else was injured. Several days later, he was on his way to Germany and then back to the U.S.He was able to call his wife, Tiffany, at Fort Bragg to tell her what had happened."It was very scary," she said. "It was a nightmare for me, something you didn't want to hear. I was very grateful that he was able to call and tell me instead of somebody else calling me."Last Friday,, Chatman received the Purple Heart at Fort Bragg for being wounded in combat."Me and my buddies were joking about it," he said. "It's basically a marksmanship badge for the enemy. A lot of people say that. It's the truth. I really wish I didn't have to get it. It's something that comes along with the territory, I guess."Military editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3585.