Iraq, 1 year later
Minnesotans comingto terms with the repercussions of war
One year after America went to war in Iraq, dozens of Minnesotans are coming to terms with the grim, personal repercussions.
"I lost my entire calf muscle and 25 percent of my right thigh due to an anti-tank land mine," said Spc. Ryan Frank, 22, of Eagle Lake. "I wear a brace on my left leg from the knee down. I have no feeling in the lower part of the leg. I can't run. I can't stand up for any longer than 15 minutes. It stinks."
Keith Deutsch came home to New Prague without his right leg. Garth Stewart of Stillwater came home missing a foot.
Four Minnesotans came home in coffins.
In addition to the many Minnesotans who serve full time in the military, nearly 2,000 members of Minnesota National Guard and local reserve units left home last year to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Almost 2,000 more Minnesotans are getting ready to take their places.
Almost all of the Minnesota casualties happened after President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1. Of the 568 U.S. troops killed in the war as of Thursday, 430 died after May 1. The time line is similar for more than 3,200 who were wounded.
"We never felt we could let our guard down, and it was more tense after May 1," Frank said.
His unit rolled through Baghdad in April and headed northwest to the Syrian border. Its mission was to secure checkpoints and block the flow of insurgents and arms into Iraq. "We got attacked every day, sometimes more than once," Frank said.
Frank's closest buddy is Pfc. Jeffrey LaMont, 22, from Blue Earth. The soldiers realized only after they met in the Army that they had grown up nearly as neighbors.
LaMont went down first. On June 14, his patrol unit was searching for contraband at the Syrian border. At nightfall, mortar rounds hit their checkpoint, and they dispatched two Bradley fighting vehicles to take on the assailants.
"Suddenly, a car rolled up, and the people inside started firing AK-47s," LaMont said. "The first round hit me in the abdomen, and the bullet exited close to my spine. I looked down at it, and then I got hit in my hand and my temple pretty much simultaneously."
Medics stopped the bleeding and loaded LaMont onto a helicopter. He woke up in a hospital in Germany.
Then Frank's number came up. On the evening of Aug. 29, his patrol team spotted a half dozen people sneaking into Iraq. The soldiers fired warning shots. The people ran. The soldiers gave chase and the Bradley that Frank was driving hit an anti-tank mine. Only the vehicle was hurt, but while the soldiers waited for a tow, they took a hail of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Once they could roll again, Frank took the duty of walking in front of the vehicles as a ground guide.
Frank figures he walked right over the second land mine without knowing it. The towing vehicle set it off 18 inches from his feet.
Now, both soldiers are at Fort Carson in Colorado waiting for medical discharges.
Frank's left leg was so shattered he needed a muscle transplant and multiple surgeries to repair a gaping hole in his calf. He doesn't expect to recover feeling in the leg because a main nerve was severed.
LaMont has had pins inserted in his shattered fingers, two abdominal surgeries and ear surgery. He had meningitis for two weeks, and now he needs a leaky artery repaired.
While the soldiers mend their bodies, they also are trying to heal their minds.
"Sometimes you can't sleep at night," Frank said. "You think of it all the time. …; When I daydream, I find myself thinking about it. It makes me nervous and on edge sometimes, but nothing major."