Josh Puga ‘I hollered "Grenade," and we all scrambled’
Stars and Stripes
Unit: Naval Special
Earned: March 1, 2008, Anbar province, Iraq
There’s nothing like getting thumped in the chest with a hand grenade to get the blood pumping.
Lucky for Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Puga, the grenade tumbled right back into the hole from which it was thrown.
Then all hell broke loose.
"As soon as it hit me, I knew what it was," said the 31-year-old Explosive Ordnance Disposal team member with Mobile Unit 8.
Death was three to five seconds away.
"What was going through my head? ‘Oh crap. Oh crap.’
"I hollered ‘grenade,’ and we all scrambled from the house. At that point, we’re all making it back to our vehicles or looking for cover," said the sailor, who calls McAllen, Texas, home.
March 1, 2008, started like many other days for the sailors of the Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Ramadi in Iraq. Acting on information gleaned by intelligence officials, Puga and the team set out for a "single-family dwelling in the middle of nowhere."
The small, four-room structure could be a safehouse for insurgents to store weapons and explosives and plan attacks, the team was told.
After the two-hour, dusty ride from their base in Ramadi, the sailors rolled up to the unassuming dwelling and were met by three men. The crew did an initial "regular meet and greet" with them, said Puga, who has spent six of his 10 years with the Navy with bomb disposal. As a precaution, the sailors took the men out of the house because they were of "fighting age," he said.
The sweep of the dwelling turned up C-4 explosive, detonation cords and propaganda in the form of fliers and DVDs, Puga said.
In the corner of one of the rooms, they unearthed a 12-by-12-foot sheet of aluminum covering the opening to an underground bunker system where 13 insurgents were hiding, he recalled.
Then came the tossed grenade.
They all bailed.
"We made it to the Humvees safely, then we do a head count and everyone in my vehicle was accounted for."
After teams reached cover, a 30-minute shootout ensued, with gunners from the turrets of the Humvees firing on the house, Puga recalled.
"We set up a perimeter, making sure no one was coming out spider holes, making sure our flanks were covered. … After all the 50-cals were rockin’ the house, they called out for a cease-fire. … We went back in, walked around the house, doing a site survey and further intel search, took pictures and collected what documents we could.
"All the insurgents, they are deceased at this point."
To make sure, the troops called in for close-air support.
No U.S. troops were hurt or killed in the attack, Puga said.
Returning to the house made them realize how close to danger they had tiptoed.
"Walking back through the house, we found their harness gear (which carry grenades and weapons), weapons, grenades. A lot. Grenades with pins that hadn’t been pulled. It was still pretty hazardous.
"We gathered whatever intel we could without touching the bodies. We got everybody out, cleared and called in to have a bomb dropped.
"You get a warm and fuzzy that that house was secure."
For his actions, Puga was given the Navy Commendation Medal with "V" device.