By Sgt. Jon Soles, MND-B PAOSeptember 23, 2009
BAGHDAD - Pfc. James Freed was pulling security by a brand-new soccer field near Sadr City on June 5, 2009. Like on other missions, his eyes were constantly darting from the streets to the buildings, the rooftops and the corners. And then it happened so fast he didn't hear the shot.
"I was down on a knee and I had just been scanning the rooftops and something caught my eye," said Freed, a tanker assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "Right when I turned my head, that's when it hit me. It felt like someone [rifle] butt stroked me."
At first, Freed thought one of his fellow Soldiers had slapped the back of his helmet as some kind of juvenile prank. But the orange flash he saw above his left eye and the ringing in his ears indicated it was no prank.
"I turned around and there was nobody behind me and that's when I realized I had been shot," Freed said. "I dropped and found cover. I knew I had to get as low as I could."
Suddenly, everything seemed to be in slow motion. Freed's training kicked in and as he sought cover, an incredulous thought went through his head.
"When I dropped down and started low crawling, I could feel the blood coming down everywhere," Freed said. "I asked. 'Am I crawling with a bullet in my head''"
A medic rushed to Freed's aid and stopped the bleeding with a bandage, while Freed's comrades - a mixture of infantrymen and tankers - scrambled to provide security.
Freed was rushed back to Joint Security Station Ur. The prognosis was good. The bullet that tore through Freed's helmet mowed down a path of flesh from his scalp, but did not cause any serious injury.
"They kept me up [at the first-aid station] overnight to make sure [the bullet] did not hit my skull," said Freed, a native of Odon, Ind. "They looked it over and said it took the flesh off, but it never hit the skull."
Freed only spent two weeks on the mend, during which time he was frustrated that he was not on patrol with his comrades in Co. A.
"I didn't feel right, just sitting around while everybody else was working," said Freed, who is on his first deployment. "I was ready to go back out as soon as possible."
Things returned to normal, as Freed got back into his routine of going out on patrols, helping to keep the Sadr City area safe and secure. But he hasn't forgotten that day in June, and the spot where he was standing, which he often passes on patrols.
"I do know God had a hand in it that day," Freed said. "I was looking up and then I turned and looked down at the same time as if the angel said, 'Hey, look here.' "
Freed is due to receive the Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge for that day, but medals don't mean much. Rather, his gauge of accomplishment is getting back on patrol, completing the mission. Freed also said the sniper attack has not spooked him.
"It doesn't really bother me," he said, standing by the red, purple and yellow painted bleachers of the soccer stadium where the attack happened. "I actually feel proud to go back there and stand."
The sniper got away that day, but Freed said if he ever had a chance to meet the insurgent who tried to kill him, he would have just two words for him.
"It would be a fun thing for me to meet the guy who took the shot, face to face, and say, 'You missed.'"