- Most of you...hell, all of you...have come to expect a certain levity in this space. However, times being what they are, I want to do something a little different, and tell a story about a friend of mine. I don’t try this much, as I reckon my talents lie elsewhere, but I received something today that I thought you all needed to see.
I will make it up on the next pass. I promise...I’m good for it, I swear.
The Right Way.
1) “I was angry.”Last year, during OIF II, I got linked up with a buncha good explosive ordnance disposal techs who helped me and a couple of engineer squads blow up one of the captured Iraqi ammunition supply points in 2/7’s area. One of those EOD guys was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant named Mike Burghardt. He and I have stayed in touch since then, although I hadn’t heard much from him since we came back for Son of OIF II: The Redemption.
Gunny’s been in the Corps for eighteen years. Been blowing up shit for fifteen of those, and is on his third hitch in Iraq in the last twenty months. He’s married and got a daughter about Sarah’s age. Mike is a lot like me, in that he will talk about demolitions until somebody begs him to shut up, is a little on the goofy side, and refuses to stress out about the little things. Brian K claims that I have a “man crush” on Mike, and while I find that characterization somewhat insulting, I do call him friend. We’ve blown up a lot of shit together.
Got an email from him today. Seems he’s had a rough week. Y’see, last Monday, Mike got blown up.
He was doing what he normally does. Woke up on Monday to the phone ringing, picked it up, listened to some Watch Officer tell him that there was an IED that had blown up the night prior, and would he please go clear the site so they could recover all the vehicles? He grunts, nods, hangs up the phone and gets his team moving.
They get off base, get out to the site, talk to the guy in charge out there, and start clearing the sides of the roads up to this intersection where there was an overturned Bradley fighting vehicle and some damaged HMMWVs from the night before. Off they go, him on one side of the road, his assistant on the other, stopping anytime they see anything that might be an IED, and eventually getting to the intersection. Now there’s a big crater there. About chest deep, to hear Mike tell it, and so he’s in a hurry and jumps down in there. He looks around and sees a piece of what appeared to be a tank used to hold acetelyne or propane gas. He moves that and...
Just underneath the dirt at his feet is a piece of buried packing tape. Just a bit showing. He clears enough off to see a receiver built out of a cordless phone base station.
Gotta hurry just now.
So he turns around and waves his arms and yells for everyone behind him to stop and keep their distance. In an ecstacy of fumbling, he bends back over and probes around, and finds a three foot section of detonation cord, which is usually used to trigger multiple devices near simultaneously, and two artillery projectiles. He quickly uncovers a little of the artillery projectiles and cuts the det cord leading to them. Hears footsteps behind him.
Mike turns around to shoo the idiot away.
When one is that close to an explosion, the boom that normally resonates isn’t present. The mind only registers the crack, I think probably because so many things are happening at once. Dirt flying through the air, intense and brief heat from the flash, all this shit flying around, and this big shock wave bludgeons the senses.
The people behind him see the explosion, see him launched out of this hole, see him move ten feet through the air, and watch him land on his side…motionless.
Oh Shit. The EOD guy is dead.
So there is Mike. Laying on his side. Mentally taking stock of all his attachments. Can’t feel anything below his chest. Brain trying to reset itself like a CD player that has been knocked off of a table. And he’s thinking, “they finally got me. Dammit, they finally got me.”
The soldiers with him think he’s fuckin' done. I mean, why not? Jesus, they just saw him thrown out of a hole like a ragdoll. So they move up security and check him out. Hey! The EOD dude’s still alive! They check him over and administer first aid. His trousers are pretty much gone, so they finish cutting them off, and he’s got three marble sized chunks of flesh pinched out his lower back and thighs like some sick asshole got after him with a melonballer, and a buncha red marks that will be either flash burns or bruises. They call up a helicopter, which lands, and they’re about to take him on a stretcher...
But Mike slowly begins to feel his feet! His toes are wiggling. He’s wiggling his fingers. All is right with the world.
“I’m not riding a Goddamn stretcher! Help me up!”
Anger replaces shock. Pride asserts itself. He rises.
Now, in all likelihood, Mike was being watched from the minute he first got out of his truck. That fucker watched him walk the length of the entire site. He waited as Mike messed with the device, but couldn’t see what Mike was doing because he couldn’t see down into the crater. He was waiting for more Marines or Soldiers to enter the kill zone. He watched Mike wave the guy off. He pressed the button. He watched Mike fly outta there like a 180 lb. bald mortar round. He probably watched him and laughed as he praised Allah.
I sincerely hope that son of a bitch stuck around long enough to see Mike stand up, give him the finger, and motherfuck him to the skies.
Mike told me on the phone earlier today that he was screaming every curse he could think of while the photo from the Omaha paper was taken. And he stood there. Bleeding. Head up. Proud. And he promised “that motherfucker that I’d be back tomorrow. I told him I’d be back and find his ass. I laughed at him and told him that I was still here, that he didn’t get me after all.”
Not “why am I here?” Not “this is all pointless.” Not “how could my President allow this to happen?” No, his first thought was to ensure that the SOB that “got him” once would go to bed knowing that his problems had officially begun as of that very afternoon.
Mike told me that he will be back out on the roads around Ramadi looking for IEDs (and the asshole who blew him up) by Friday of this week.
Now, Mike is exceptional, as we saw last April when he and his team rendered more than sixty devices safe in front of 7th Marines, as we rolled around Fallujah. Both Mike and his assistant team leader both received Bronze Stars for that action. However, I will say that this sort of esprit d’corps is indeed common. I look at the attached picture and I can visualize any number of Marines that I work with everyday doing the samedamnthing. It’s what they’ve come here to do. It’s what they’ve trained their lives for. They are today what they’d always hoped they could be.
Skilled, well-trained, well-led warriors fighting an enemy who is blatantly evil.
Which is all a long way around the bend to get to the whole point in all of this. Folks, look at the picture of Mike. Here’s a guy who just had eight-to-ten pounds of RDX and PETN explode less than fifteen feet from him, standing and giving the finger to the guy who did it to him.
That is indomitable. Unbending. Undefeatable.
I submit that we cannot lose this here in Iraq. This sort of heroism is constant, Marine, Army, Navy. This sort of pride moves around Iraq in every area, city, town, and shithole that Americans patrol everyday. This war can only be lost at home, in the US of A, by people who are not physically involved in any way, shape, form, or fashion.
I ask that you remember the face of Mike Burghardt standing there—bloodied, half-naked, and unbowed—the next time you turn on the television and see those gathered in DC waving signs and wearing silly t-shirts.
We’ve come too far here to ride home on a stretcher with these assholes thinking they’ve beaten us.