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Army Sgt. Eric Torres, 23, was shot in the right leg when his convoy was ambushed March 23 near As-Samawa, Iraq.

Army Sgt. Eric Torres, 23, was shot in the right leg when his convoy was ambushed March 23 near As-Samawa, Iraq. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Army Sgt. Eric Torres, 23, was shot in the right leg when his convoy was ambushed March 23 near As-Samawa, Iraq.

Army Sgt. Eric Torres, 23, was shot in the right leg when his convoy was ambushed March 23 near As-Samawa, Iraq. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Dr. (Capt.) Steve Khoo, a surgical intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, stops in to check up on Sgt. Charles Eatmon.

Dr. (Capt.) Steve Khoo, a surgical intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, stops in to check up on Sgt. Charles Eatmon. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Sgt. Charles Eatmon points out on an X-ray where bullet fragments remain lodged in his neck and shoulder.

Sgt. Charles Eatmon points out on an X-ray where bullet fragments remain lodged in his neck and shoulder. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

WASHINGTON — Sgt. Charles Eatmon had made up his mind.

“I ain’t dying in this country,” he remembers telling himself after realizing he’d been wounded in heavy fighting with Iraqi forces outside Najaf.

That wound, that bullet — likely from an AK-47 rifle, he said — nearly cost him his life. The bullet entered his right shoulder and exited from his neck, collapsing his right lung.

Good luck, training and a will to survive helped Eatmon, 30, keep that promise to himself.

He and another soldier, Sgt. Eric Torres, spoke with Stars and Stripes on Monday while recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

‘I’ve been hit!’

Eatmon thinks it was March 25. “The days all seem to run together when you’re there.”

It was sunset, and his world was orange from sunlight hitting the sandstorm blowing through.

Assigned to 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment out of Fort Benning, Ga., Eatmon had orders to have his unit relieve U.S. Army scouts who had been securing a bridge.

“We got reports of Iraqi soldiers, five men with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], moving around to get to the rear of our Bradlees.”

Suddenly there was barrage of fire, pinning Eatmon and other troops against a 5-foot-high wall.

“We were on our knees. Had we been standing, they would have torn right through us,” he said.

He recalls someone yelling: “I’ve been hit!”

He turned. He got shot. He felt his chest getting soaked, and at first figured his Camelbak water container had been hit.

Then he saw blood.

“I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!”

He stood up, fell back and blacked out.

‘Fantastic’ medics

“The medics we have are fantastic. The soldiers we have are fantastic. Some were straight out of basic [training], on their first deployment, 18 and 19 years old, and they all did a good job and pretty well kept their cool,” said the husband and father of one.

Eatmon has undergone surgery to repair the damage, but some pieces of the fragmented bullet remain in his neck and above his left collarbone. Surgeons have not decided if it’s worth the risk to his health to remove them, he said.

His pain, he said, is not in vain. He knows it after seeing the “very strange things I saw in Iraq.”

Morale was low. They’d been sitting for weeks in Kuwait, ready for action, for home, for someone to make a decision.

Then the orders came. When they reached Nasiriyah, he said he realized why they were sent in.

“That’s where we first saw the civilian people, and it was so sad to see how the regime treated them. You could see how they suffered, the poverty.”

‘I remember fear’

The night was quiet.

“Dark. Eerily. Real quiet,” said Army Sgt. Eric Torres, 23.

Enemy fire changed all that March 23 as Torres’ convoy of about 15 vehicles were ambushed near Samawah.

“We were coming up to an Iraqi military checkpoint that we thought had been abandoned,” Torres said.

“I was calling my platoon sergeant, letting him know we were under fire when … I could feel the bullets hit my truck.”

Torres, assigned to 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, Headquarters Battery out of Fort Stewart, Ga., suffered a broken tibia and fibula, the bones in the lower part of his right leg. He’s recuperating from a “fist-sized” hole.

“My biggest concern was calling my parents,” said Torres, a Combat Observe Lasing Team chief — the guy on the ground who sets a laser on the target.

At 7:30 p.m., the phone rang at Bea Solgard’s Gulf Breeze, Fla., home.

“The Army called to say [her son’s] vehicle had been ambushed, and he suffered gunshot wounds in both legs. I remember fear. Lots of fear,” said Solgard, who traveled to Washington to be with her son. Reports were later corrected; he’d been shot in one leg.

Solgard and her husband, Norm, Torres’ stepfather, took turns being the rock in the family, Norm Solgard said.

“At first, she was the one who took it real hard, who was a mess,” he said.

“When she was done, it was my turn.”


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