Soldier loses leg in search for missing soldiers
June 21, 2006
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Find the missing soldiers and get to them before the worst could happen.
That’s what was going through the mind of Spc. Joshua Gutierrez late Friday and early Saturday as he was driving a Bradley fighting vehicle during a mission to locate Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Army Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.
“They’re soldiers,” said an emotional Gutierrez from a bed in the intensive care unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “Just like me. They’re soldiers. Just like me.”
Gutierrez was one of 12 troops wounded in the search for Menchaca and Tucker, who went missing Friday near Youssifiyah, Iraq, in an apparent kidnapping by heavily armed insurgents. The bodies of Menchaca and Tucker were recovered Tuesday near where they were captured, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said.
Gutierrez, with 1st Platoon “Punishers,” Company A, 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, was part of a massive search for the two missing soldiers that involved more than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The 24-year-old Gutierrez, of Mira Loma, Calif., was driving a Bradley early Saturday morning during the search north of Iskandariyah when it hit what he thinks was either a mine or improvised bomb.
Initially, Gutierrez thought he was going to burn to death. He was trying to open the ramp to let soldiers in the back out of the Bradley.
“I was basically yelling because the cockpit was on fire,” he said. “My driver’s area was on fire. I was like, ‘Get me out of here. I can’t move.’ I couldn’t push up. I could grip the handle [on the hatch], but I couldn’t push up because it weighs about 150 pounds. Usually, I use my legs to help push it up, but my legs were broken. I didn’t know they were broken at the time.”
The gunner on the Bradley — a fellow specialist — jumped out of his seat, opened the hatch and pulled out Gutierrez.
Gutierrez heard the specialist might get a Bronze Star Medal for saving him.
“I hope he does,” Gutierrez said. “He deserves it. He pulled me out. I just want to tell him I love him; you’re my brother. He pulled me out of the fire.”
Gutierrez suffered severe injuries to both his legs. He arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Sunday. His left leg is fractured, and a portion of his right leg had to be amputated as a result of the blast.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I’ll deal with it.”
Gutierrez, who had just learned that the bodies of Menchaca and Tucker had been found, had a message for their families.
“I’d just like to tell them that their efforts and their courage and bravery is not in vain,” Gutierrez said. “There’s a reason all this happened, even if the reason still escapes them. There’s a good reason behind all this.”
“They did not die in vain,” he said.