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Sunday, April 13

Soldier grazed by bullet wears war's reminder on sleeve

By The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle

NAJAF, Iraq - Jessie Hazen, 18, trained with his company only a couple months before they left Fort Campbell, Ky., for the war in Iraq.

So when an Iraqi bullet grazed his shirt while he pulled guard duty early Wednesday, Hazen was hit not only by shock but also with the reality that the mission here is real.

''It felt like I was hit,'' said the private with Company B of the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division.

''All I saw was the flashing, and for a second my whole arm went numb and then it was burning. It scared the heck out of me,'' said Hazen, who added that he would be a lot more alert the next time he's on guard duty.

The young soldiers in Iraq have fired their weapons in practice and have trained for wartime duties for months or years. Now the war is giving many of them a new and sometimes traumatic experience: being shot at.

Hazen was walking from his guard post to headquarters, heard a crack and saw a flash of light.
He immediately felt the burn on the outside of his upper arm. Moments later he realized someone was shooting at him. He looked down and neither felt nor saw blood but saw burn marks and tears on his uniform.

The other soldiers joke and call Hazen a ''battle veteran'' who will have a good story to tell his children someday. He won't get any medals for his experience but probably will have some bragging rights and will get a new uniform in the desert camouflage pattern.

Another soldier who was on duty with Hazen, Pfc. Michael Blouse, was wounded in the knee. He is recovering at the 86th Combat Support Hospital, a medical unit attached to the 101st in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Rogers remembers when he got shot during a live-fire exercise on a firing range at Fort Campbell in 1987.

A private trying to ''play cowboy'' disengaged the safety on his M-249 squad automatic weapon, a small, medium-powered machine gun. The bullets started flying.

''He was behind me and a bullet hit my rifle, my (utility) belt and right wrist. It swung me around and threw me to the ground,'' said Rogers, 37, of Warwick, R.I. ''Being shot at by friendly forces is more traumatic because you expect it from the enemy.''

Rogers also can recall the first gulf war, when his platoon went on patrol and Iraqi bullets came as close as 10 yards. He admitted that while he personally can deal with the giving and receiving of small-arms fire - ''small arms'' are rifles and handguns - what he can't handle are aircraft crashes.

''It was 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment's Black Hawk helicopter that went down'' in 1996 at Fort Campbell, Rogers said. ''It was around that time when the Army started counseling. It was good to just talk about it.''

Six soldiers from that battalion were killed in the crash when two UH-60 Black Hawks collided during a public demonstration. Thirty people were hurt. The 502nd's infantry battalions are in the 101st's 2nd Brigade.

Battalion chaplain Capt. Stephen Pratel said that anytime soldiers are shot at or are involved in an accident, the Army's counseling program kicks in.

''It's used anytime the soldiers experience other than a normal impact that causes anxiety, fear and shock,'' Pratel said. ''The goal is to eliminate or lessen post-traumatic stress disorder and let them talk about what they experienced and ... letting them know it's not unusual what they feel.''