2217 Dec 19, 2006. Baghdad, Iraq
I woke up to the sound of my gunner screaming. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!!” He was brushing and patting down his legs. I’m not sure if it was because he thought his legs were on fire, or if it was from the searing burn of hot copper shrapnel and bone fragments that had just entered his legs. Everything was suddenly very loud.
Our gun truck had somehow come to a stop on the MSR. The road through the windshield was unusually dark. Usually lit up like daylight with eight spotlights in front of our gun truck, it was now barely lit by a couple of surviving lights. The smell of burning copper, electronics, and flesh was thick in the air to the point of being nauseating. It’s a smell I will never forget, a smell that still permeates some of my surviving gear to this day. It still reminds me of death.
After a second or two of dazed confusion, I said out loud in a pleading, quiet, murmur to myself, “Oh Josie! Oh Josie!” This was only my fourth mission out since I returned from my two week R&R back home. My young wife of nine months was fresh on my mind, even if we had only spent a total of three weeks together as a married couple.
“I can’t feel my arm!” I groaned. I was trying to open my passenger side door. Instinctively reaching for the door handle with my right hand, I repeatedly tried to push the opening lever but to no avail. I finally looked down at my arm to see why it was starting to burn like hell, and quickly realized why I couldn’t open my door.
Where my right hand and wrist had been seconds earlier was now a mangled chunk of flesh, veins, and tendons. Two white bones protruded out an inch past the mangled flesh. The burning pain was unbelievable. “Oh shit” I thought to myself, “I need a tourniquet”. I was surprisingly calm about it. My right hand and wrist were completely gone.
My training was kicking in. The months of monotonous, repetitive training we had constantly bitched about was now telling me what to do amidst the pain and confusion. I looked down at my left hand to see that it was still there, but not fully functioning. I could only move my thumb, index, and middle finger. The rest were curled up, and numb. Even through the Olive Drab colored flight glove still covering my left hand, I could tell it was extremely mangled and starting to swell.
“How the hell am I supposed to get a tourniquet on now?” I thought to myself. I always made it a point to carry an extra homemade tourniquet my left lower pant pocket. Composed of engineer’s tape, a Gatorade bottle seal, and tongue depressors taped together, it took seconds to apply. This was of course in addition to the fancy Army issue one contained in the first aid kit on my body armor. The medics had warned us if you really cranked down on them, they could break. Never leaving anything to chance, I had been carrying mine around for months prior to my squad leader deciding it was a good idea. It would do little good now. With one hand completely gone and the other mangled, there was no way in hell I could apply a tourniquet to myself.
“Fuck, I need someone to give me a tourniquet” I thought to myself. I wasn’t sure what everyone else in the convoy was doing. We were gun truck #1, the scout truck for a twenty fuel tanker convoy, so we were at least 300 meters ahead of everyone else. Doc Krisko was way back in gun truck #3 so we could maneuver him wherever he might be needed.
Still sitting inside our idling truck, I tried repeatedly using my left thumb to key my radio, but to no avail. “Great, now what do I do” I thought.
I wasn’t sure of the status of my driver and gunner, although at that moment they were regretfully the furthest thought from my mind. Even if they needed help, there would be next to nothing I could do in my state. I could hear them talking to one another, but not over the head sets as usual.
“Hey!” I said to them in an authoritative tone.”Get on the radio, get a hold of truck #3 and get the medic up here! My right arm’s been blown off and if I don’t get a tourniquet on I’m going to bleed out.” I was surprisingly calm as I said it, as if I was issuing one of the many commands I did on these missions.
They frantically tried to call anyone on the radio. First my gunner SPC Oliver, then my driver, SPC Fahlin. I looked over at Fahlin for the first time as he keyed his radio and called over the convoy net. “Truck three this is truck one…Three this is one….” He shook his head no, and said “nothing”.
Little did we know, but every piece of electronic navigation or communication equipment in my truck (besides my personal Garmin GPS) had been completely destroyed in the blast. The expensive new Harris radios, the FBCB2 navigation and communication computer, along with everything else was nothing more than a smoldering pile of electronics.
“I’m gonna see if I can yell to them”, Oliver hollered. Truck two was creeping up behind us looking for secondary IEDs, a common tactic used by insurgents.
“Hey! Hey! We need to get Doc up here! Salzman’s fucked up! His arm is fucking gone!”
As I sat in my truck waiting for the medic to arrive, I started to check myself over. I knew there was no way I could get a tourniquet on myself so I did the only thing I could do. I took my still glove covered left hand and cupped it over the missing end of my right arm. I’m not sure if made it bleed any less but it made me feel better nonetheless.
I started to check my body over for other injuries. I shuffled my feet back and forth. I moved my legs up and down. Everything was still intact. Sweet! I thought to myself. I can still log roll! I always said regardless what happens to me in Iraq, as long as I still have my legs and I can still log roll I’ll be happy.
I checked the rest of my body over. My manhood was still intact. I moved my chest and shoulders under my IBA (Interceptor Body Armor). Everything felt intact.
I sat there waiting for the medic to arrive. The seconds ticked by like minutes. As I sat there waiting the thought of dying went through my mind for a split second. No way. No fucking way am I dying here. Not here, not now, not in this country.
That’s the last time I ever thought about dying.