By Jeremy S. Buddemeier EditorSeptember 19, 2007
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS - Boom. That was how Pfc. Tanner Archibald remembered it.
In less than a blink of an eye, an improvised explosive device (IED) tossed his humvee 10 feet into the air, flipping it upside-down.
"I held onto that steering wheel as tight as I could," Archibald said of what was an otherwise routine patrol outside Kirkuk, Iraq, three months ago, today.
Still upside-down, he began to reach for the radio console.
"Fire was everywhere ... I just bailed," he said.
With blood from two head wounds obscuring the vision in his left eye, Archibald said adrenaline enabled him to kick open the heavily armored door and crawl away from the burning vehicle.
As a medic approached, Archibald told him to check the humvee first.
It was too late. Archibald was the sole survivor.
As tradewinds lightly rustled battle streamers at the Tropic Lightning Memorial here, Friday, Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, commander, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, presented medals to Archibald and four other Soldiers for their courage under fire in separate incidents on the battlefields of Iraq.
Among the awardees were Spc. Craig Wiggins, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, who along with Archibald, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, received a Purple Heart; Sgts. Ernst Bennett and William Price, 2-35th Inf. Regt., who received Army Commendation "V" devices; and Staff Sgt. Alejandro Romar, also 2-35th Inf. Regt., who received the Bronze Star.
Two weeks before Archibald's vehicle was hit, an IED struck the humvee Wiggins was riding in.
"I thought I was dyin'," Wiggins, the vehicle's gunner, said. "Then I found out I was OK."
The blast knocked Wiggins unconscious for about 20 seconds. Shrapnel tore through his skin and broke bones in his right hand.
Reacting quickly, he applied a tourniquet until the medic arrived. He was the only Soldier injured in the explosion.
Others, like Romar, preferred not to speak of their experiences.
"We got attacked, and we saved some people," he said, after stating he didn't want his wife, standing next to him, to have to hear what he did.
Romar received the Bronze Star for his actions while deployed with his previous unit, the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.
Comrades-in-arms in the strictest sense, Bennett and Price were awarded "V" devices for their actions during the same battle.
While on patrol between Baghdad and Kirkuk with the Iraqi army, Nov. 7, 2006, insurgents ambushed Bennett's unit, which resulted in "one helluva firefight," he said.
Price was part of the initial wave of 10 Soldiers sent to assist Bennett's unit. As soon as they disembarked the Black Hawk, they began taking fire.
During the fight, enemy bullets shattered bones in Bennett's left arm and hip.
"They hit everything except for the artery," he said. Bennett also received the Purple Heart for his actions; Price received the Purple Heart three months after the firefight, Feb. 28, when an IED threw him 30 feet from his humvee, shattering his right foot.
Nearly one year later, Bennett calls himself 90 percent recovered after two reconstructive surgeries involving two metal plates, 18 screws, and "a lot of stretching."
"I can snap now," Bennett said. "I learned last night."
Following the awards ceremony, in front of more than 80 Soldiers and family members flanking the memorial, Brandenburg addressed the five awardees.
"Thank you very much for allowing me to stand with you today," he said. "I'm absolutely overwhelmed by your presence."