Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt

I've seen the story in a couple places now (Rottweiler, SayAnything) and it's worth telling again.

Burghardt, who was looking to clear an evacuation route for the vehicles, hopped into what he thought was a recent bomb crater. He said he saw an interesting piece of shrapnel in the 4½-foot- deep hole and wanted to investigate. As he took a closer look, the shattered gravel beneath his foot suddenly shifted, revealing a package wrapped in orange plastic and a cordless telephone base station.

Realizing that he had just stumbled onto a primed explosive, Burghardt stuck his knife in the dirt and dredged up a red detonating cord that led to a pair of 122 mm artillery shells. He cut the cord with scissors and told the rest of his team to stay back.

“I thought I had done good,” Burghardt said.

But what he didn’t realize was that a second detonating cord ran from the base station to a third artillery shell buried behind him. The triggerman, figuring perhaps that he wouldn’t lure anyone else into the trap that day, placed a telephone call to the base station.

“That’s when I heard the distinct crack of that artillery shell,” Burghardt said.

The explosion sent Burghardt 10 feet into the air and dropped him in a heap on the road as his team watched in horror.

[...]Medics cut away his bloody pants to reveal that the backs of his legs had been studded with shrapnel and bruised from the top of his boots to his waist. As they prepared to place him in a stretcher, Burghardt shouted, “No.” He didn’t want his teammates or the insurgents to see him carried from the scene. He was going to walk.

As he was helped to his feet, Burghardt said, he felt a wave of anger and adrenaline flow through his system. He had just extended his Iraq tour that morning and he was livid that he had been bested by the bomber.

“I was really pissed off that they got me, that after all this time, they got me,” Burghardt said. “I figured the triggerman was still watching, so I flipped him off. I yelled, ‘[Expletive] you! I’ll be out here next week!’”

Which brings us to one of the best pictures from the war.