Soldiers recall bombing in Iraq’s ‘Devil’s Den’
Stars and Stripes June 17, 2007
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Thousands of miles from their small patrol base in Iraq, 1st Sgt. Rick Haddad and Spc. Justin Donnelly reunited Thursday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Donnelly eased out of his wheelchair to shake hands with his first sergeant, who was resting in a hospital bed. Then they delved into their story.
The soldiers with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, were wounded June 8 in a suicide car bomb attack on their southern Kirkuk outpost. The suicide bomber drove a blue truck — with what is believed to have been a 2,000-pound bomb hidden under animal hides — into a gate at Patrol Base Bushmaster. Eighteen soldiers were wounded in the attack and one — Staff Sgt. Tyler E. Pickett — was killed.
Haddad described what Donnelly looked like after the blast.
"You were covered in so much blood," Haddad said.
"Yeah, it was mine too," Donnelly said. "… I had a laceration on my head all the way down to my skull. I kept running until the blast. I heard the blast, stopped, got my wits about me and there was blood pouring out on my face."
"You looked like straight death, man," Haddad said.
"I walked back inside and saw you in the doorway," Donnelly said. "… I started hollering, ‘Get the conference room cleared out. Break down that table.’ "
"Yep, you got the mass cal [mass casualty treatment] going," Haddad said.
"I gimped my way into the aid station," Donnelly said. "Got a hold of (Spc. Sean) Dmytryszyn. Told him to get in the conference room and start triaging the treatment."
"He saved my life," Haddad said.
"… I got (Spc. Ryan) Vaccaro, and I told him, ‘Take a couple [combat life saver] guys and start policing up casualties outside."
The soldiers are responsible for an area known as "The Devil’s Den," with very high roadside bomb activity to their west, Haddad said. The unit has been making a lot of progress with reconciliation and governance, Haddad said. More than 700 "Sons of Iraq" were active in their area.
In the early afternoon on June 8, Donnelly and Haddad went to the patrol base’s gate to let out an Iraqi man who fixes air conditioners. The three men had just finished loading up air conditioners.
"We walked up to the gate with the other fella," Donnelly said.
"And the guy [driving the car bomb] was literally rolling at that second," Haddad said. "We saw it rolling."
The suicide driver hit a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle parked at the gate for the very purpose of protecting against such an attack.
Because they were on their patrol base, Donnelly and Haddad were not wearing body armor or helmets. They took shrapnel to their backs, arms and legs. Severely wounded, Haddad was most worried about a secondary attack, but his soldiers immediately established security, he said.
Haddad praised the actions of the company medics, highlighting the efforts of Dmytryszyn and Vaccaro.
Because no helicopters could fly, the wounded had to be transported about 25 miles over the road.
"They’re heroes — my medics," Haddad said. "I’m serious. They’re the guys. Air was ‘red,’ so you know what that means. We couldn’t fly. They mass-caled and put together a convoy. Some of the drivers were wounded."
The suicide bomb attack is not indicative of the overall situation in the area, Haddad said.
The unit opened a new community center, and the day prior to the blast, they had a soccer tournament with the locals, he said.
"We’ve had a lot of success there," Haddad said. "I mean, seriously. It sucks because this is such a spectacular event, but there’s been just as much positive in that village… I know the people in the village didn’t have anything to do with it. That’s my opinion because we’re just too close with them. I just don’t see it being them."
In tribute to the soldier who died in the attack, the patrol base will be renamed in honor of Pickett on Sept. 1.
"Staff Sgt. Tyler Pickett will be loved and remembered by everybody in the company," Haddad said. "He’s a damn good soldier."