Camaraderie, Patriotism, Pride Spur On Troops in Combat

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2007 – Each day, as the nation’s volunteer military men and women perform their mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, they know the enemy they’re up against employs uncommon tactics and weapons. They know that a simple misstep could cause disfigurement or death.

This weekend, the military’s top-ranking general paid tribute to the 26,000 troops who have been wounded and 4,000 killed facing this enemy.

On behalf of these wounded and fallen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace honored four Purple Heart recipients, one from each service, at an evening parade at the historic Marine Barracks here.

Pace said Army Cpl. Mathew Murray, Marine Sgt. Nicholas Wahle, Navy Senior Chief David L. Hall and Air Force Senior Airman Michael Fletcher also represent those who serve around the world protecting America’s way of life.

“Another 2.4 million Americans just like them serve our nation tonight so we can … live the lives we want to live, enjoy our families, pray where we want to pray – or not pray – and just live our lives as Americans,” Pace said. “To each of you and all those you represent, thank you.”

The four honorees talked with American Forces Press Service at a pre-parade reception about the camaraderie, patriotism and pride they said helps keep them and their cohorts motivated in the dangerous, uncertain lands where they’re deployed.

Army Cpl. Mathew Murray

Army Cpl. Mathew Murray deployed to Iraq in August 2006 as a weapons intelligence team member. His neck was broken by an improvised explosive device in December of that year while he was performing forensic analysis near Camp Taji.

Murray said most of the wounded troops he’s met are staying positive and going on with their lives. Only about 5 percent are bitter about their injuries.

“It’s a very low ratio because we knew what we were doing when we signed up,” he said. “There’s no doubt in your mind that you could get hurt doing this job. It’s not like you weren’t informed of the dangers. You know what’s going on. It’s on the TV everywhere.”

Murray said his personal philosophy about combat is simple: “When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.”

“I was wearing every protective measure I could, and it still happened,” he said. “There’s really nothing but chance that’s stopping you from getting injured.”

But getting hit, he added, “is really the last thing on your mind. You see how the Iraqis live and you really want to help.”

As an infantryman investigating IED sites, Murray he had a lot of contact with the local people. During his dealings with them, he said he always tried to represent the Army and the United States the best he could.

“We talked to them a lot and even with the people who were suspects, I tried to keep a professional, kind attitude toward them,” he said. “I made sure they were comfortable, but still restrained the way they needed to be.” In return, he said, the Iraqis were “respectful and they complied.”

Asked if he’d return to Iraq, Murray replied, “in a heartbeat.” He’d said he’d go back “in case something like this happened to somebody else. They might need me there to do something. It’s for the other soldiers, the other troops, not so much for myself.”

Marine Sgt. Nicholas Wahle

In November 2005, during his third deployment in Iraq, Marine Sgt. Nicholas Wahle led his squad in combat in Ramadi. During an attack on an observation post by indirect rocket-propelled-grenade and small-arms fire, he was struck in the face by shrapnel. Despite his injury, Wahle exposed himself to enemy fire as he delivered vital ammunition to all posts.

In January 2006, Wahle observed enemy activity and, anticipating an assault, assembled the reaction force and forward air controller. During the attack, he coordinated his post’s response and told the forward air controller where to lay down fire. By foreseeing the attack, he enabled the post to gain fire superiority and defeat the attack.

Wahle, who received a Bronze Star Medal for the courage he demonstrated, said he was honored to represent the Marine Corps’ warriors.

Asked what keeps him motivated, the five-year veteran replied, “I’d have to say ‘pride.’ Pride in the Marine Corps. Pride in my country, my family. It’s what I do. It’s just who I am.”

Wahle said he planned to reenlist and apply for an officer training program. “I love the Marine Corps. I love leading Marines,” he said. “I like to do good things and make a positive impact.”

Navy Senior Chief David L. Hall

Navy Senior Chief David L. Hall, a medical corpsman, deployed to Iraq with the 5th Marine Regiment from August 2004 to March 2005. He was riding in a 7-ton truck in a convoy in Ramadi when an IED blast hit the vehicle, wounding him and many of the passengers.

Hall sustained multiple shrapnel fragments to his left upper arm, one that passed through his left forearm, and other shrapnel fragments to his face. Three Marines were also injured.

Although dazed by the blast and bleeding from his own wounds, Hall triaged his fellow passengers and provided emergency medical care to the worst-injured Marine. Hall bandaged the Marine’s neck helped him breathe, despite limited use of his own left arm. Hall also directed the convoy corpsman in rendering aid to the other Marines.

Only after these patients had been treated and their evacuation coordinated did Hall permit himself to be treated and evacuated from the scene. Because of his quick and efficient medical care, all three wounded Marines survived, and none suffered unnecessary loss of limb or eyesight.

Hall said his chosen profession was key to the way he approached combat mentally. “I’m a Navy corpsman and I think that inherently within us, because of our training and our tradition, we do the things that bring honor to the Navy and to our corps,” he said. “We just do it.”

Hall said he had talked with his sailors and Marines about fear. “I told them, ‘Be afraid,’ because I was afraid,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being afraid of things you don’t know about, or you don’t know whether you’re going to come home to your families and friends. I think that’s what held us together.”

He said there’s nothing that can prepare you fully to face IEDs -- but that servicemembers have adapted to the new threat in their environment.

“Overall, the sailors and Marines of that unit understood what the mission was,” he said. So when they came under attack or hit an IED, they treated their wounded, then continued the mission. “The IEDs disrupted us, but it never stopped us,” Hall said.

Hall said the unit’s extensive training paid off in a big way. “We used a lot of the information that was provided as lessons learned and after-action reports,” he said. “We studied the techniques, tactics and practices of the enemy and we tried to outguess them.”

Air Force Senior Airman Michael Fletcher

Senior Airman Michael Fletcher joined the Air Force in 2004 and was deployed to Iraq as a turret gunner on a Humvee. His face was crushed and he lost his left arm and vision in his left eye when the vehicle rolled over. He has undergone numerous surgeries to rebuild his nose and face.

Fletcher said he and his wife Yolanda currently work with wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. “We don’t want them to feel like people don’t have their backs,” he said.

“We want them to know that we’re there for them and that we care about what’s going on,” he said. “Without people taking care of me when I got here, I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today to do it for other folks.”

Although they lost their home in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the couple’s longer-term goal is to move to Florida to start a small business and to help raise money for the wounded veterans.

“So many people we don’t know did so much for us,” Fletcher said. “I don’t need the recognition, but I want them to know that I’m out here and that I’m trying to help do what other folks have done for me and our country.”

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