ARLINGTON, Va. — Navy Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Reginald Dean’s sons are grown men now, 20 and 24 years old.

But his fatherly instincts kicked right back in on April 12, 2005, as he worked to comfort two badly wounded Iraqi children whose outing with their fathers had turned to horror in a suicide car bombing in Tal Afar.

The scene that awaited Dean when he arrived at the scene was “chaos,” he told Stars and Stripes by telephone.

A vehicle bearing an improvised explosive device had run an Iraqi army checkpoint and exploded, leaving “three cars pretty much shredded from the impact,” Dean said from his current duty station at the Naval Branch Health Clinic in Whiting Field, near Milton, Fla.

“Four dead Iraqis blown to bits in the middle of the road … and Iraqis [soldiers] shooting in the air,” he said. “There was blood and body parts everywhere, and at least 12 casualties.”

The casualties included a young boy and girl, both with head wounds.

Assessing the children’s wounds as the most serious of the lot, Dean “grabbed them and put them in the ambulance to get them to [Fort Tal Afar], where I could call for a helicopter evacuation” to the combat support hospital at Mosul, he said.

As the ambulance rocked and bumped its way over the uneven road, “I held my body over them in case we got shot,” Dean said. “They were crying and they were scared, crying for their moms in Arabic.

“I patted them and talked to them. I told them everything was OK,” Dean said. “It was just a fatherly instinct.”

Dean was awarded the Bronze Star on May 30 in Pensacola, Fla., for his actions that day in Tal Afar, where he cared for the children and 10 additional Iraqi citizens hurt in the blast.

The car bombing, which occurred just two weeks after Dean arrived in the notoriously restive Tal Afar, was his first direct experience with combat, although not his first time in a combat theater.

The 45-year-old corpsman had served in the first Gulf War, and was back in the Persian Gulf aboard the Marine LSD (Landing Ship Dock) “Tortuga” for 264 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After leaving the Tortuga in September 2003, Dean was assigned to the Naval Branch Health Clinic in Whiting Field, near Milton, Fla.

While there, he volunteered to serve as a corpsman and medical adviser for the U.S. Army’s New Iraqi Army Coalition Military Assistance Team at Fort Tal Afar.

Dean was part of a small team of U.S. advisers and trainers who lived with more than 700 Iraqis at the fort who were working to become members of their country’s first post-Saddam military.

As the senior medical staffer, supervising four other U.S. military medics, Dean was in charge of developing a program to train Iraqis in the fundamentals of combat medicine, as well as running daily “sick call” for the Iraqi trainees.

On April 12, Dean was on the roof of the fort, watching the sun go down.

“I went downstairs and the Iraqis were hollering from the radio room that a checkpoint had been blown up and [that] there were casualties there,” he said.

The 12-man U.S. advisory team immediately jumped into Humvees and went racing down to the checkpoint, Dean said.

They left the medics behind.

“I was kind of upset,” he said. “I asked, is there any way we can get down there? One of the medics said, ‘Hey, we can take the microbus.’”

The microbus was a Russian-made ambulance with no armor.

Though he had been off the base exactly once, with the company of a heavily armored escort, Dean didn’t think twice, he said.

“We threw in a couple of crash bags” filled with emergency medical gear, he said, and Dean, the medic, an Iraqi interpreter and an Army lieutenant sped off down “Ambush Alley,” the road leading away from the fort and toward downtown.

“I learned over the next four months that we were really lucky,” Dean said. “I saw what happens to those ambulances,” which are often deliberately targeted by insurgents in secondary attacks.

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