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Spc. Jeffrey Ellis on Wednesday holds up a piece of shrapnel that hit him in a suicide bomber attack the previous day. It was removed from his body but he's expected to receive further care in Germany.
Spc. Jeffrey Ellis on Wednesday holds up a piece of shrapnel that hit him in a suicide bomber attack the previous day. It was removed from his body but he's expected to receive further care in Germany. (Bryan Mitchell / S&S)

Mideast edition, Thursday, August 30, 2007

FOB SALERNO, Afghanistan — Spc. Jeffrey Ellis never saw it coming.

The 20-year-old Wisconsin native was working in a 6-foot hole beneath a bridge when a suicide bomber struck his unit on Tuesday, killing three of his comrades.

“I didn’t know anything was going on until I heard the boom and saw the smoke,” Ellis said Wednesday from a bed in the field hospital on this austere forward operating base roughly 10 miles from the Pakistan border.

Physicians removed ball bearing-style shrapnel from his right arm and torso, but at least one piece remains lodged in his abdomen. He is expected to travel to Germany for further care.

“I’m lucky, it didn’t hit a single organ in me, but they don’t know if it’s going to cause any more problems,” Ellis said.

The attack that claimed the lives of three members of the Fort Lewis, Wash., based-585th Engineering Company is part of a wider campaign by militants to disrupt work by coalition forces in this still perilous region.

A “fallen comrade” ceremony was held late Tuesday evening at Bagram Air Field, where scores of troops lined the main drag and saluted at attention as the soldiers’ flag-draped coffins inched along Disney Drive.

American forces working alongside the Afghan National Army are currently engaged in a two-pronged approach of improving local infrastructure and rooting out insurgents, who are increasingly adapting tactics from Iraq such as car bombs, suicide vests and roadside explosions.

And, much like in Iraq, the insurgents don’t discriminate between coalition forces and the native population.

That’s how two Afghan teenagers wound up recuperating, alongside Ellis, from wounds sustained in Tuesday’s attack.

Samia Ullah, 15, and Aminu Ullah, 13, were walking home from school shortly after noon Tuesday when they crossed the bridge that the 585th was busy rebuilding just as the suicide bomber struck. The elder brother suffered wounds to his torso, and American doctors removed one of his kidneys, while his younger brother sustained deep lacerations to his back.

The two Afghan youths struggled to speak to their father Wednesday, who sat quietly between the two in a state of shock and sadness. He expressed gratitude for the Americans who treated his children, and dismay for the suicide bomber.

“It’s a problem for me and my family,” Mohammad Salah said via interpreter Dr. Ahmed Gul. “The Americans come to make a bridge, but the bad guys don’t want us to have a bridge or for my children to go to school.”

Ellis said he hadn’t experienced any other attacks during his 10-month deployment. The bombing, he said, has left him with a sense of unease.

“It makes it hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys,” he said. “We just don’t know where he came from.”

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