It was only 36 seconds.

They were seconds that held the fate of perhaps three dozen lives.

And they were seconds that Special Agent Gregory A. Carmack can’t erase from his memory of war, where as the triggerman, he had only 36 seconds to stop an apparent suicide car bomber.

Carmack received the Bronze Star with "V" device on Sept. 13, 2007. The 16-year Air Force veteran’s heroics came more than a year earlier.

On June 14, 2006, Carmack was sent to capture or kill two Iraqi policemen who were suspected terrorists working a roadside checkpoint outside Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq.

Carmack’s armored Suburban was leading a convoy of three vehicles carrying six Air Force special agents. In the early afternoon, Carmack’s group met up with an Army convoy of nine Humvees.

The Army blocked the road on either end with help from an Iraqi police cordon to stop traffic while the soldiers and OSI agents disembarked from their vehicles to discuss mission details.

After the soldiers returned to their Humvees, Carmack was still briefing two of his agents while standing on the side of the road away from traffic.

"I heard a gunshot and looked through the window of the vehicle I was standing next to," he said. "I saw an Iraqi policeman with his pistol up in the air. Within a second or two, a little white truck ran him over and he went flying."

Training and "gut instinct" took over. Carmack stepped to the front of the vehicle and, from across the engine block, starting shooting at the driver, who was fast approaching from about 20 feet away.

Carmack fired three rounds from his M-4 rifle before the truck flew past Carmack, headed toward the parked Army Humvees. The other convoy members had taken cover; only Carmack had a clear shot at the attacker, according to Air Force officials.

"As he passed, I took up a kneeling position, rotated, fired another seven rounds, four of which almost 100 percent [certainty] hit him," Carmack said.

The truck rammed into the back of one of the Army escort vehicles directly in front of Carmack, with the driver slumped over in the cab.

The entire sequence lasted 36 seconds.

It wasn’t over yet.

An explosives ordnance disposal team dispatched a bomb-dismantling robot to examine the truck. Two 130 mm cannon shells were found rigged to the passenger floorboard, ready to explode. EOD deemed the only safe solution was to detonate the vehicle with the driver, who was believed dead, inside.

But, about 30 minutes after the truck came to a stop, the driver suddenly burst from the vehicle.

"He stumbled around, he fell to his knees, he made a motion the Army felt was aggressive," Carmack said. "The Army finished him off."

In the end, EOD could not determine why the cannon shells didn’t explode. Was it "fate? Luck? Did I shoot him before he could detonate?" Carmack said.

"In the end, they ended up crediting my actions for the truck not exploding," he said. "Based on the explosives and how close they were, EOD told me that if at any time the vehicle had detonated, I’d be dead."

Though people tell him he’s a hero, Carmack, 35, says "any one of the guys I was with, if they were in my shoes, they would have done the same thing. The only thing I feel good about is … 40 men and women got to go home that day."

Special Agent Gregory A. Carmack

Current Unit: Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 601

Medal: Bronze Star with a "V"

Earned: June 14, 2006, near Kirkuk, Iraq

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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