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Journal: Shot while ‘minding my own business’

Editor's note: Tom Deierlein wrote a series of  e-mail updates to his friends, family and colleagues after being called up by the U.S. Army and sent to Iraq. Here are the excerpts accompanying Part 4 of's special report, Charity Begins at War.
Tom Deierlein takes his first steps on Dec. 22, 2006 after months of bed rest at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Tom Deierlein takes his first steps on Dec. 22, 2006 after months of bed rest at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.Courtesy of Tom Deierlein

DATE: Oct. 20, 2006
TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: Bye-Bye Baghdad — Hello Bed Rest

This is finally going out to all that have been on my monthly e-mail list. I am no longer in Baghdad. I was shot by a sniper on Sept. 9. The round shattered my pelvis and sacrum. After surgery, I was sent to Landstuhl, Germany for a few days and then arrived here in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 16. My lovely wife Hiwot has been here every day since. My own little angel of mercy.

Injury and treatment update
At the end of my 12 weeks of recovery, if the bones heal properly, I can then begin rehabilitation, getting up, putting weight on my hips and pelvis, and begin the long process of trying to walk (and run??) again. If all goes well, in early January I will spend some time down in Tampa at the Army’s premier center for spinal-cord injuries. The road to recovery is expected to take six to 12 months depending on the degree of nerve damage and my early rehab progress. My guess is that I will be back at work in NYC by late spring 2007.

Continued aid
My efforts to comfort and help the local poor children and needy Iraqi families continue. The biggest victims and worst suffering in any war is the innocent children. Unfortunately, this war is no different. The toys, clothes, school supplies and vitamins have a great impact. For those of you who wish to continue to send your charitable goods, my buddy Drew Corbin, an Airborne Ranger, family man and firefighter from Austin, Texas, has agreed to continue those efforts. He was with me and helped plan and execute all the distribution while I was there and he will ensure your contributions end up in the hands of the most needy in East Baghdad.

So there I was, minding my own business
For those who have not heard “The Story” yet, here it is. Unfortunately, as more foreign fighters enter the city, more (very) well-trained snipers are out and about with devastating effect.

For the past two weeks we had been conducting an operation called “Together Forward.” The basic goal was to seal off and rapidly clean up some of the worst hotspots in Baghdad. The 172nd Stryker Brigade would cordon off (seal off) an entire district of Baghdad for two weeks or so and search house by house and building by building to clean out weapons and bad guys. Then we Civil Affairs guys would follow up and work with local government on some rapid/quick-impact projects, medium-term development projects and of course long-term projects like economic development. The main thing was to re-establish security and then turn it over to Iraqi forces to continue enforcement of rule of law.

We were focused on a number of projects working in conjunction with the local government for things like school supplies, medicine for the local hospital and clinics, improving the electrical network for power, clearing out the blocked sewage system, and providing humanitarian assistance for homeless families. We had also hired about a dozen contractors to clean up the trash and debris in the streets while we tried to get the local civil servants to fix and restart their trash service. This was a main effort in the new Battle for Baghdad.

It was about 1030 or 1100 hours on a Saturday morning and some bad guys had shot at some of our trash contractors as they cleaned up the street. We had had a number of incidents over the past week, including seven workers being shot, including a young boy. We got a report of shooting and decided to go up to the area to protect the workers and see if we could get any information about the insurgents.

When we arrived, there were no smiles from the people on the street, no welcomes, no children around (red flag) and no one was willing to talk to us about the shooters. It was not a friendly neighborhood. There was no sign of the contractor or his workers. We decided to leave after being on the ground for about five minutes. I walked over by my HMMWV and turned to overwatch as our soldiers remounted. Something I had done a hundred times before.

BAM!! I heard a loud explosion and was thrown backward onto the ground. My first thought was that I stepped on a land mine or tripped an IED. In fact, as I flew backward and looked down at my boots and legs, they weren’t coming with me as I fell. In my mind I had been cut in half — lost my legs. As I hit the ground all I could think was, “I guess this is it, I will bleed out within the next 60 seconds or so.” I cried out, “OH MY GOD, I’M HIT! I’M HIT! OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!!!” Then I just laid there looking up at the sky and waiting to die. I wasn’t feeling any pain.

I heard Drew call out, “Rogers, get over here, ROGERS!!” (Rogers is our medic and the true hero of this story.) Drew then called out, “Pop smoke, everyone pop smoke.” Typical Drew, cool under heat, he began to execute our battle drill for sniper fire by the numbers. The smoke was to obscure the area so the sniper could not see anyone to shoot and to make it possible for people to come and move me to cover and safety. He then spoke to me for the first time, “Tom, can you walk at all?” I was so happy to hear that question — it meant I was wrong and still attached to my legs. “Hell, no!” I called back. Drew told me not to worry, they were coming to get me. I told him to wait a minute and then took the opportunity to throw my smoke and obscure the immediate area around me.

The guys quickly moved me into the back of my HMMWV and Rogers began to conduct his assessment and first aid. He evaluated my injury and began to apply pressure to the entrance wound. (There was no exit wound.) He talked to me and kept me calm. He began to remove and cut away any/all equipment that he could. I was brought to an FOB (Forward Operating Base) about 2 miles away that had a medical station and a landing zone for the MEDEVAC helicopter.

As I lay on the operating table inside a little M*A*S*H-looking building awaiting the helicopter, the medics tried to control the bleeding and establish the degree of severity of the wound. I turned to some of my troops in the room and told them to call my wife and let her know that I had been hit. I read them her telephone number. But, rather than call her as I instructed, they simply pulled out an IRAQNA cell phone and dialed right there. They handed me the phone.

Hiwot answered groggily — it was around 4 or 5 a.m. her time at this point. I asked if she had gotten a phone call. “No,” she replied. “Why?” “I’ve been shot, they shot me!!” I replied.

“Are you OK?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine.”

“Are you in pain, did they give you painkillers?”

“They don’t give painkillers to RANGERS.” (I still had my sense of humor, but was very high on morphine at this point.)

“Do I need to do anything?”

“You have to call my parents. Talk to my Dad, not my Mom, and you need to downplay it.”

“OK, I’ll tell them it was a BB gun.”

“No, tell them it was a sling shot!!”

That is all I remember from the phone call. I was told to “breathe this.” I woke up a day and half later one hour north of Baghdad — I had been operated on and had numerous blood transfusions. I awoke to tubes and IVs all over the place. A day after that I was in Germany and four days later here in the United States of America. …

Thanks for all the prayers, goodies and well wishes on my recovery. I will be out and about before you know it!!