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Sunday, April 13

Soldiers wounded in firefight south of Baghdad

By Rob Curtis | Military Times

Mahmudiyah, Iraq - At least 16 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded Sunday when a motorist lobbed a grenade into a group of them here and other attackers opened fire with rifles, setting off a fierce firefight and scramble for survival.

About 40 soldiers from two platoons of the 3rd Battalion from the 502nd Infantry Regiment were clearing a weapons cache at a suspected Baath Party complex about 15 miles south of Baghdad when a motorist in a gray car lobbed the grenade over the wall that separated the soldiers from the street.

The soldiers were hauling mortar rounds from a large stucco building at the complex as a crowd of locals watched from outside the gate. A gray car drove up about 6 p.m. Sunday and an occupant tossed the grenade over the wall and into a courtyard where soldiers were working.

``We were in the process of carrying out the cache,'' Staff Sgt. Travis May said. ``We heard three quick pops and we all turned to the left. We saw the crowd outside the gate and we felt the shock from it and my face felt different.

``I got up and I looked around and I saw guys with blood just coming out, bleeding from their faces, their arms, all over,'' said May, who suffered minor injuries to his face.

Spc. Christopher Bernhold was injured in the right arm, left leg and face after the grenade exploded only about 25 feet away, but he got up to return fire.

``I was on the ground maybe 30 seconds after the grenade went off,'' Bernhold said. ``I was up and looking for someone to shoot.''

The soldiers who were able to returned fire in volleys that went on for about 30 minutes. Other soldiers dragged their injured colleagues to safety, drawing trails of blood from the courtyard into the building.

The attack came after what soldiers described as a good day's work in this small town, a choke point on Highway 8 to Baghdad. The crowd that watched the soldiers work ``seemed pretty friendly,'' May said.

Maj. Brian Pearl, battalion operations officer, said enemy fire came from three positions. It was not clear what became of the gunmen or the grenade thrower.

Battalion headquarters sent in ambulances and a Blackhawk helicopter. Ten soldiers were treated and remained with the platoons. Six others were evacuated by helicopter to an undisclosed location; two of them suffering what was described as serious injuries.

``I told one, you're going to be all right and he looked up at me,'' Pearl said. ``And I said, `I'm going to get you on the helicopter,'''

One of the ambulance medics, Spc. Luis Rodriguez, said, ``When I got there, there was chaos, confusion. I went inside and saw five guys bleeding and (U.S. soldiers) were outside shooting at everything.''

At 9:34 p.m., more than three hours after the attack, soldiers from the 101st shot a civilian in the thigh. He reportedly had been running near some of the soldiers and some thought he was a possible attacker when he refused orders to stop. Soldiers said he was given medical treatment at the scene and then evacuated by medical helicopter.

Inside the stucco building, soldiers sat amid the blood and grit, and a sergeant logged the names of the wounded and their injuries. One soldier limped across the floor. The 3-502 had arrived in Baghdad not quite two days before and was sent down here to check out the complex that now served as its refuge. These soldiers said they were anxious to leave here and get back there.