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Americans And Iraqis Fight Through "Dark Day"

Remember this picture of an Iraqi medic consoling an American Soldier after losing many Iraqi soldiers to an IED - Fighting And Dying Together?


An Iraqi medic (center-right), an American chaplain (left), and an American medic (far right) console Spc. Bryan Walczer at FOB Summerall's aid station following an IED attack which injured Iraqi soldiers on a vehicle Walczer was driving. Walczer is from Allentown, Pa., and belongs to Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry. The chaplain is Capt. Michael Hart, and the medic is Sgt. Robert Hildreth, both from 313th Field Artillery.   Photographer: Staff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta

Here's the story about that Soldier and the Iraqis who were wounded that day:

Soldier Recalls ‘Dark Day’

By Staff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta
42nd Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SUMMERALL, BAYJI, Iraq, Oct. 3, 2005 — In combat, the point of contact is where soldiers encounter the enemy.

Spc. Bryan Walczer, Company A, 111th Infantry, made contact in more ways than one last May 17 - the day he and some Iraqi soldiers joined the ranks of improvised-explosive-device survivors.

Company A, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit, has been training and performing combat operations with Company C, 201st Iraqi Army Battalion, since last December. Soldiers of both units roll out of the base here daily on counter-insurgency missions, which have become routine like patrols and raids. “Anything a normal infantry unit would do, we’ve done,” said Walczer.

Walczer was driving an open-back Humvee with Iraqi soldiers aboard during a patrol on May 17 - coincidentally the anniversary of his enlistment - when an IED made of 155 mm rounds detonated next to the vehicle. Walczer called it a “dark day.”

“I said before we left the gate, ‘this a rolling target,’” he said. “I was being sarcastic. You never expect anything’s going to happen, but in this case, it did.”

The moments following the explosion are etched in Walczer’s memory. He couldn’t hear, he said, and was in a dizzy, disconnected, slow-motion state he described as “post-concussion retarded.”

“When you have 155 mm rounds go off right next to your vehicle, everything slows down,” he said.

Guided by survival instincts and fueled by adrenaline, Walczer said he was aware enough to get out of his vehicle and seek cover. Minutes later he was ordered back to his damaged Humvee, where he saw the IED’s aftermath – wounded Iraqi soldiers.

Walczer, a native of Allentown, Pa., is 20 years old. His lineage reads like a catalog of honor – a line of uncles and grandfathers, who marched through, and survived, Vietnam, Korea, World War II’s Normandy beaches and beyond.

Like them, Walczer was a veteran – even before the IED blew up near his vehicle. He had witnessed the death and destruction caused by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

May 17 was different.

“I remember looking at the wounded and thinking, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before,’” he said.

The unit evacuated the wounded Iraqi soldiers. At the base medical facility, Walczer broke down.

“My emotions just came out,” he said. “It was almost as if I was hiding them on the battlefield. They couldn’t come out. I had to do my job first.”

All but one of the wounded Iraqi soldiers survived, Walczer said.

“(The Iraqi soldiers) are always nice to me,” he said. “I felt bad because I was driving the vehicle. I thought, ‘maybe if I drove more to the left, they’d still be here.”

Despite this and other incidents, Walczer and his fellow soldiers – American and Iraqi – drive on with their mission.

“I guess time heals all wounds,” he said. “You realize it’s war, and it’s not fair. You always try to do better, but you can’t do everything perfectly.”

A criminal justice student back home, Walczer is considering studying medicine instead – to balance things out, he said.

“You come here, to this place, and see all this violence...maybe healing people will make me a better person,” he said.

The point of contact sometimes lies inside the wire, in the minds and hearts of the American and Iraqi soldiers here. In the quiet after battle, it’s the connection they make with each other, those they shed sweat, flesh and blood with...when they recognize that they not only share the fnbight, they share the sacrifice, and a common humanity – even in the worst of circumstances.

In one way or another, Walczer and his fellow soldiers, Iraqi and American - make contact, every day.