By Spc. Alexis HarrisonApril 4, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, April 4, 2008) - Just about every Soldier in the 1st Cavalry Division who comes back from Iraq gets to march across Cooper Field here on Fort Hood as part of the welcome-home ceremony.
After two trips to Iraq, numerous injuries, months of rehab and two Purple Hearts, Sgt. 1st Class Carl Pasco has yet to walk across Cooper Field with his troops.
In June 2004, during his first tour of duty in Iraq, then-Staff Sgt. Pasco was conducting what began as a routine patrol through Baghdad.
In the blink of an eye, a huge explosion ripped through his vehicle damaging his right leg and face severely enough to take him out of the fight for the next 11 months.
"I was out cold for three days," Pasco said.
Once he awoke, Pasco began the recovery process that would take over nine months to complete. On top of his injuries, Pasco also found out he had an arrhythmia, an irregular beating of the heart, and was also later in a severe car collision while he was going to a funeral in Indiana for one of his Soldiers who was killed in the explosion.
After months and months of rehabilitation and turning a blind eye to pain and restrictions, Pasco was finally allowed to return to full duty.
When the time came for another rotation, Headquarters and Headquarters Company's top noncommissioned officer and Pasco's supervisor, 1st Sgt. John Aldrich, gave him an opportunity to lead a platoon, but instead of the scout platoon he was familiar with, he took over as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the mortar platoon.
According to Aldrich, Pasco immersed himself into the job by training constantly with his new troops and getting to know them individually. During the push to get ready for the next deployment, word came down that the mortar platoon would serve as the personal security detail for the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment's commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sauer, and their top NCO, Command Sgt. Maj. Horace Gilbert.
The battalion deployed with the rest of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division but was sliced off and sent further west to supplement the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division headquartered on Forward Operating Bases Rustimaya and Loyalty.
After a year went by, Pasco was beginning to feel relieved about his second tour coming to an end, said Aldrich.
That was until the second improvised-explosive device he would encounter hit even harder than the first one.
An explosively-formed projectile ripped through the right side of the vehicle Pasco was riding in. A Soldier and an interpreter were killed and two others were injured by the blast. EFPs like the one that hit Pasco's truck are particularly deadly because they spew a molten slug of metal at the intended target. One of the molten slugs smashed through his door, then through his right shoulder and his jaw before killing his driver.
"I couldn't really tell how bad I was injured," he said. "I remember a loud noise and someone screaming. I realized it was me who was screaming and told myself to 'shut up.'"
Pasco remembers hazy details of what happened afterward. He remembers Command Sgt. Maj. Gilbert jumping in the vehicle to see who needed help. He also remembers the interpreter who was with them, Ahmed, telling him he was wounded shortly before he died.
Another patrol in the area came the scene and managed to get Pasco out of the truck. Now that everything is in the past, Pasco chuckles when he thinks about how crazy it was of him to sit in the middle of a Baghdad street getting treatment by one of the medics in his platoon.
He finally arrived at the combat support hospital in Baghdad's International Zone. This would begin Pasco's long road to recovery. When he arrived in Washington D.C., his wife had already dropped everything to come be with him for a second time.
"Every spouse dreads that phone call and this was the second time I got it," said his wife, Joy. "I asked if he would live and they said 'yes'. There was a little relief when I heard that."
Months later, Pasco is still on the rough road to recovering from his injuries. He's already had a few of many facial reconstruction surgeries and the doctors plan to replace some of the tendons in his right arm to help him regain some of the movement in it after the slug caused major nerve damage in it.
"It's demanding emotionally and physically; it's hard on everything," Joy said. "But, we can't look back if you want to move forward. He's alive so we can only get better from here."
Recently, Pasco was finally awarded his second Purple Heart and a Bronze Star during the Mustang's annual ball. Despite getting recognition for his suffering and sacrifices, Pasco could only think of one thing: being back with his brothers from the 1st Bn., 8th Cav. Regt.; after all, he'd been a part of the battalion for more than eight years.
"I got out of the hospital just in time to go to the ball," he said. "It was tough being away from my troops, but seeing everyone there was great after being in the hospital for so long."
Pasco knows his Army career has come to an end. Yet, he still feels like part of the larger team and has no regrets about staying in even after the first time he was injured.
He still has several more surgeries to repair the damage done to his face and arm. Yet, his biggest complaint isn't his pain, speech difficulties or his scars. The one thing that still bothers him day after day is never getting to walk across Cooper Field with his troops.
(Spc. Alexis Harrison serves with the 1st Cav. Div., 2nd BCT Public Affairs Office.)