Sergeant LETTER to his father, from south of Baghdad. September 21, 2003

Sergeant Timothy J. Gaestel, twenty-two, Austin, Texas. E-mail to his father, from south of Baghdad. September 21, 2003.

Hey, Dad, this is your son. I finally get to write y’all a letter. First off: let me tell you we made it here safe and so far, but everything is going very good. Now, Dad, I know that you have already received a phone call that tells you I am O.K., but I want you to know exactly what happened. . . . We were heading south down Highway 8 and I was gu-nning for the second truck.

Byrd was driving and my chief was the passenger. We got off Highway 8 onto Ambush Alley, the route we didn’t take going up there. I was in the back of the truck with my 240B machine gun, and the S2 [an intelligence officer] wanted to ride in the back of the truck with me, since I was the only one back there. We were at the end of the convoy at this point so we were really hauling ass, driving down the wrong side of the road and all that, just so we could get to the front of the convoy.

My buddy Eddie was a badass driver and kept us from getting in wrecks a few times. But still able to get the mission done. The X.O. [executive officer] truck was behind us and needed to get in front, not to mention the fact that I had his Gatorade I was supposed to throw to him the next time they passed us.

At that exact moment, a loud and thunderous boom went off and pushed me all the way to the front of where my 240B was mounted. I knew something had just happened and when I turned around I could see two large smoke clouds on each side of the road. The first thing I thought was that I had just been hit in the back by an I.E.D. [improvised explosive device]. It wasn’t like I felt as if I was going to d-ie, more like “Man, that really hurt.” At that moment, I reached around and felt my back and pulled my hand back, and it was covered with bIood. Before that I honestly thought it had just hit my I.B.A. [interceptor body ar-mor]. It turns out that it had hit my I.B.A. and gone right through it.

I lay down in the back of the truck, but this didn’t seem like a good idea and I didn’t have my wea-pon and had to yell at the S2 to give me my weapon—I didn’t want an ambush to happen and for me to not have my wea-pon. So I stood up on my knees and yelled again to him to man the 240B; he was scared, but that’s what happens when you don’t ever get any kind of training and you sit in an office all day. This guy didn’t react very well when I showed him my back—he started flipping out and yelling “Oh, G., you got hit man, oh he’s hit bad, man.”

This is the last thing that you tell someone who has just been hit in the back and is bleeding. As you can imagine, I was pretty pissed off at this point, and I showed my anger toward the people in the town that we were driving through. I had my M4 rifle at the ready and my trigger finger on the trigger and was just waiting for someone to give me a reason to have me put it from safe to semi. I maintained my military bearing as well as one could in that situation. I sure wanted to shoot the bastard that had just set the I.E.D. off.

As we were making our way back to the F.O.B. [forward operating base] at that last street, I could no longer sit up straight and my back was ki-lling me. There was a major who was our field surgeon waiting for me in the front of the gate to check me out. This guy didn’t reassure me, either.

When I told him that I was O.K., he looked at me and said, “Look, son, you may have internal bleeding.” Now I was scared. They rushed me to the aid station, where I talked to some sergeant majors and the colonel.

In like fifteen minutes, in my brown underwear, green socks up to my knees, and a blanket, I was rushed out to the landing zone where a chopper took me to C.S.H. [Combat Support Hospital] 28, in downtown Baghdad. The flight through Baghdad was amazing, too, you could see the whole city and all the buildings and stuff, it was very strange. The helicopter pilot was a badass as well, he had to do a wartime landing, which is really fast and quick, it was cool.

Now, Dad, I hadn’t seen a female in twenty-one days, and so you could imagine I was excited when I looked down off the helicopter as we were coming in for a landing to see a very beautiful woman (it could be she was beautiful because I haven’t seen a woman in a while). Now when I landed, a female second lieutenant took me into the E.R. with no one else in the whole room except her and me. She came up to me and ripped off my blanket, grabbed my brown undies, and ripped those off too and gave me a catheter. Now that was more painful than the I.E.D. and way not what I was thinking was going to happen when she grabbed my blanket off me. Then she gave me some morphine and I was good.