, a former U.S. Army medic and member of the central Illinois chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), described his experiences in Iraq as part of a Winter Soldier event organized by the IVAW and other groups at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus on November 13.
About 150 attended the evening Winter Soldier panel, which was part of a day of antiwar activism. Since March, the IVAW has held Winter Soldier events across the U.S.–they take their inspiration from the 1971 hearing organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War that featured soldiers and other veterans giving testimony about their experiences to expose the criminal war policies of the U.S. government.
IT’S 3 a.m., and in our Humvee, Sgt. 1st Class Smith is shouting to the gunner to fire: “Get his ass, gunner! Get his ass!” Hot steel linkages and spent brass cartridges from the belt-fed weapon are cascading down into the truck. Many of them fall on me. For some reason, I find myself oddly preoccupied, in the middle of a firefight, with sweeping them into a neat little pile as angry bullets bounce off the Humvee’s armor.
We’ve stopped a convoy of pickup trucks, farmers moving their food to market, and they have fired on us because they think we’re stealing their food. Naturally, we do what Americans do best–shoot back with superior firepower.
The noise is deafening. All four of our Humvees are opening fire on the pickup trucks, targeting the tires and engines. Sgt. 1st Class Smith is the platoon sergeant, known among his men as “Gunny,” second-in-charge of this convoy, and when he says to move, there is no question about it. He and I dismount, along with Pfc. Devon Listerman, and together, we creep up on one of the damaged vehicles, under cover of the Humvee, and I tell Sgt. 1st Class Smith that the driver is no longer in the vehicle.
There’s a strange smell, something sour and metallic that sits on the nose and the tongue. We come around the other side and realize the driver is lying bleeding on the ground. I get Sgt. Joseph Bautista to cover me, and I head in. I am the only medic within 20 miles. The smell I noticed before is now overpowering, and I realize it’s blood. For the rest of my life, I will never forget that smell.
The Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site has video and other features from the national Winter Soldier event in March.
You can also get news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives by antiwar veterans and active-duty troops at the IVAW site.
Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations by the Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz, provides the powerful words, images and documents of the IVAW’s historic Winter Soldier gathering in 2008.
I do a quick visual assessment as I get ready. This man has been hit by three U.S. 7.62-mm machine gun rounds, one of which went through his driver-side window, and two of which hit the chassis of the truck and expanded to football-sized clouds of murderous shrapnel.
His right leg is opened up at the femur, and the space between his hip and his knee is just so much hamburger. From the size of the pool of blood he’s lying in, he’s already well on his way to stage-three shock. I drop a knee into his high femoral, cutting off blood flow to his leg while I get out my gloves and a tourniquet.
The gloves don’t work, and after a few moments of struggling, they rip and fall apart. I work on him anyway.
I throw a tourniquet on his leg and clamp it down, and then move up to his head. He’s talking, a vague guttural utterance of Arabic that I can tell is hard for him. I try to converse with him, asking him where he’s from, and who he thinks will make the playoffs this year, if for no other reason than to assess his level of consciousness and to keep my head in the game, but he doesn’t understand me at all.
All he’ll tell me is that he is tired, and that he thinks he’s dying. I notice he’s holding a hand over his chest, which is covered with blood. I try to move it, but he won’t let me until I tell him I’m a doctor, having no better word for “medic.”
Underneath, his hand is a fist-sized hole, leaking bright red blood and making a loud gurgling noise. A sucking chest wound. I log roll him and check for an exit wound, but don’t find one. I apply pressure with my hand, clean off the surrounding area and seal the wound.
I send Spc. Nathan Maston to tell the platoon leader that this patient will die without immediate medical evacuation, and to call for a helicopter and advise me of any further casualties. Word comes back to me that there are two dead and one that ran away wounded.
I recheck his pulses, and I don’t get a radial one. That means his systolic blood pressure has dropped to a level so low, his body can no longer circulate blood. With Sgt. Bautista assisting me, I prepare to give him a Hextend IV, which will spike his blood pressure and allow his blood to circulate to his limbs at the risk of blowing any clots that have formed.