By Sgt. Christopher Kozloski, 145th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry DivisionJune 23, 2009
MOSUL, Iraq - The silence was awkward as the compact conference room inside the operations center filled up with Soldiers from 1st and 2nd Platoon, B. Troop, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, attached to 3rd "Greywolf" Heavy Brigade Combat Team, on June 12.
The reason for the gathering was two-fold. First, they came to welcome back their first sergeant, who was injured in a grenade attack June 6. Second, they came to recount their actions in the streets of Mosul that day.
"We were out on a routine mission that Saturday," said 2nd Lt. Eric Dixon, 1st Platoon leader. "We had a meeting with an Iraqi National Police intelligence officer and a visit to 2nd Iraqi National Police Company, who operates in the Jalil neighborhood."
The platoon pulled up to the combat outpost to meet with their INP counterparts. They dismounted from their vehicles and fanned out to establish security around the perimeter.
"We were spreading out around the vehicles to secure the area when we noticed a man motioning for permission to cross the street," said Dixon, an Anacoco, Louisiana native. "That's when we saw him pull a grenade out of a black bag and throw it at us."
Staff Sgt. Homero "Baz" Bazaldua and Spc. Ethan Wagner, from Melbourne, Florida, instinctually reacted by engaging the grenade thrower. The attacker fell to the ground as the grenade rolled to 1st Sgt. Brian Allen's vehicle and exploded as they were dismounting, spraying his backside with shrapnel and injuring his gunner, Cpl. Adam Seiffert and dismounted Soldier, Pfc. Thaddeus Hewitt.
Spc. Michael Caruso, the platoon's senior medic, immediately went to work on the injured Soldiers, his first sergeant being the most critical of the three.
"Initially [the first sergeant's wounds] looked pretty bad," said Caruso, native of Phoenix, Arizona. "I just started working on him, cleaning his wounds out and packing them with field dressings so I could stop the bleeding and get him ready to move."
Meanwhile, "Baz," Spc. Jack Marage, a platoon gunner from Clearwater, California, and Staff Sgt. Michael Lashua, 1st Platoon section sergeant, advanced on the fallen attacker, assumed to be dead from his three gunshot wounds.
"After we approached the attacker, I began searching him for identification and additional threats," said Lashua from Walker, Louisiana. "When we got him on his back, we realized he was still alive."
While Caruso worked diligently on the first sergeant, Dixon coordinated with the Iraqi National Police, who were helping secure the area. He and his Soldiers handed off the scene to the INP and mounted up to take their first sergeant to the combat support hospital for further treatment.
Moments later, 1st Lt. Gary Quach, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, arrived with his Soldiers and received a status update from the ISF on the wounded attacker and the entire situation.
"We initially did a radio hand off with 1st Platoon so we had an idea of what was going on before we got there," said Quach, from Shelby, North Carolina. "As soon as we arrived, we saw that the Iraqi Security Forces had the area secured. The ISF immediately briefed us up on what was going on and handed the scene back over to us. Everyone knew what was going on."
Sgt. Andrew McConico, senior medic for 2nd Platoon, rushed to the attacker and began treating his wounds. With three gunshot wounds to treat, McConico knew time was of the essence.
After initial treatment, McConico was able to stop the bleeding and prepare the attacker for medical evacuation. The unit discussed the next move with the ISF and decided to evacuate him to be treated by Coalition Forces at the combat support hospital.
"It's my job as a medic to treat people. This guy was a non combatant at that point. It was my duty to do what I could to keep him alive," said McConico, a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Hopefully, if we can keep guys like this alive, we can find out who they were working with or who supplied them with weapons used in attacks. By saving his life, we might be able to save more lives in the long run."
The attacker survived. He was rushed to the combat support hospital for additional medical care and later evacuated via helicopter, to Balad, for neurological care related to the gunshot wound in his abdomen that impacted his spine.
The first sergeant survived as well. He spent a week at the combat support hospital, recovering from his wounds and preparing to rejoin his men to finish out their deployment.
Moments before 1st Sgt. Allen entered the unit's operations center, Caruso, the medic who initially treated him, looked around the room at his fellow Soldiers that had been there that day.
"The important thing is that we are all here together and that we are all going home together," he said. The entire room agreed with a nod.
The Soldiers' faces lit up as their first sergeant entered the room, with a noticeable limp and a cane. He paused for a moment and greeted them with a smile before he headed for his office to procure a celebratory cigar.
"If I could sum this whole thing up, I would say that there is not a better bunch of guys to get blown up with," said Allen, from Phlugerville, Texas. "My guys reacted to the situation based on their training and the medics went out there and did what they do. We did the right thing on the battlefield that day. We always do."