I was the first radio-TV correspondent to cross into southern Iraq when the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines—the unit I was embedded with—invaded that country on the evening of March 19, 2003. The early stages were tense.
From my seat on the right rear side of “Gun-3”—a Humvee carrying the commander of Counter Mech Platoon—I could see the flash of artillery from M-198 howitzers.
What I didn’t know at the time was that we would be driving through a lot of unexploaded ordnance. The Dual Purpose Improved Munitions being fired over our heads contained M46 and M48 grenades. Each projectile bursts high over the battlefield and its deadly contents float to earth on little ribbons. They are supposed to explode on impact, however, there is a 5-percent failure rate. They just lie on the ground like land mines.
As we rolled down a dusty road through what had been Iraqi positions, the driver swerved violently to the left. “BOOM!” A loud explosion lifted the 5-ton vehicle off the ground. I saw the driver disappear in a cloud of blue smoke and dust as the Humvee hit the ground and stopped. Corporal Ryan Gillard had swerved violently to miss something in the road, only to hit something along the opposite shoulder—a bomblet.
In addition to almost sheering off the left wheel assembly, puncturing the engine, and flattening all four tires (the entire allotment for the platoon), shrapnel from the artillery bomblet narrowly missed cutting off the driver’s head and the gunner’s leg as it entered the floorboard between his feet and exited the roof of the Hummer. Closer inspection showed shrapnel also scarred the floorboard beneath my feet.
My wife was worried that my blood pressure would soar in combat, but a Navy corpsman couldn’t believe his eyes when he read my BP after the explosion—120 over 70.