Friday, December 3, 2010

An Army Soldier Writes Of His Experiences In Iraq War

Posted Dec 01, 2010 @ 10:00 AM
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Sgt. Justin Farrar, of the 4th Infantry Division, stationed out of Fort Hood, Texas, was assigned to provide protection for CBS News war correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was severely injured and her crew, Paul Douglas and James Brolan, killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, Iraq, while doing a report about American soldiers working with Iraqi security forces Memorial Day May 29, 2006.

This is his story of that day and those that followed, told in his own words.

“I should take you to one day prior to the incident, to May 28. I used to call my wife everyday on the phone. I told her the day before that we had a mission with some CBS reporters embedded with us. That on the 29th, we were going to have a day mission and a night mission into the Karadah Peninsula of Baghdad, right in the heart of the city.

So then, the next day (May 29) it was normal wake up in the morning. Waking up that morning, I wasn’t thinking anything different. But when we did go to pick up the reporters, I honestly—and a couple of the other guys said so too—had a gut feeling about the mission. It just didn't feel right, but of course we just didn't think about it.

I’ve had that feeling before and of course, you know, nothing happens. Besides we had orders to follow.

We met up with the reporters, which was Kimberly Dozier, her sound man and camera crew, for the Memorial Day coverage, just to show what the soldiers were doing on Memorial Day. This was around 8:00, 8:30 in the morning. From that point, we got all of our crews together and the Humvees and rolled out of the ‘green zone’ into the ‘red zone’, what we call the ‘danger zone’. There was three Humvees with 16 soldiers, the three reporters and our interpreter.

It was actually our first stop, maybe 9:30, not even 10 o’clock yet, that we stopped where there was a previous IED (improvised explosive device) explosion a couple of weeks prior to that. There was some Iraqi civilians that we went to talk to. As we were all parking our Humvees so we can pull security, people were jumping out to go walk up to these people (civilians). It was my commander (Capt. James Funkhouser) the camera man, the sound man and our interpreter that had jumped ahead in front of everybody else. That’s when myself and the reporter, Kimberly, we started walking, trying to catch up to my commander. (His voice begins to crack and the emotions start to set in.) And then, (pause), that’s ya know.... (the IED exploded-remotely detonated).

The next thing I know, I heard an extremely loud sound (which was the bomb, the car blowing up), which at the time I didn't know what it was, what was happening. All I know was I heard a really loud noise and  everything went black—like someone just turned off the lights. I mean it was dark. And during that time, it was probably only a couple of seconds but it seemed like forever, things were just flashing through my head, what was going on.

Then I saw my daughter and my wife, Amy. I do remember saying to myself though that,
‘I can’t do this to Amy.’ That’s when the light pretty much came back or I opened my eyes...or something. It had that — like when you get in a car wreck or something effect — the slow motion. I still remember like it was yesterday.

As soon as I opened my eyes, I remember looking back to my left and one of our Humvees had caught fire. Some of the rounds (ammunition) were starting to cook off (explode) and fly everywhere. And then I looked back to my right and I saw my commander falling down. At that point I tried to take a step with my right leg — I was still standing after the initial blast and I don't know how. They said I was like five feet away from the car when it went off. We don't know how I was still standing, but like I said, I tried to take a step towards my commander to see if he was okay. That's when I fell down because there was pretty much nothing left there (of his knee). Then, as soon as I hit the ground — I landed on my stomach — I started spitting up blood and what I thought were teeth. But it was some of the actual jawbone that I was spitting out because the whole right side got shattered. I had some metal come and hit me in the right side of my face.

Then I remember looking up at the medic and seeing him walking towards us. So I laid my head back down and I got a little burst of energy again. I rolled myself over on to my back and I was looking around for my weapon because...but now I know it was the ammunition in the Humvee that was burninng up...I thought we were getting shot at. I thought I had dropped my weapon, but I found out later that a piece of shrapnel had hit me in the chest right where my weapon is. They said it had actually bent my weapon back into a ‘V’. They thought the weapon was just a piece of metal from the car at first. Then they noticed it was the actual weapon, my M4.

The medic came over and looked at me and I remember his first statement. He just said, ‘Oh, God’ when he saw me. They dragged me away from the burning vehicles because of the rounds, the heat and everything else. That’s when he put a tourniquet on my leg and did some quick medical stuff so he could go check everybody else out.

I remember asking about my commander. I don’t know, I...just had a feeling, I just felt that he was dead. Just how he fell down, how I saw it, how limp he went. He had some shrapnel wounds that got him and the sound man and the camera man, they both got killed by the shrapnel, as well as the interpreter. I’m pretty sure one or two of the Iraqi civilians that we went to talk to got killed, as well, by the shrapnel. The other reporter (Dozier), she was pretty messed up, too. Me and her, we took the brunt of the blast. I think there were six other guys that got hurt, from burns to shrapnel wounds. We had one guy that lost his leg (Staff Sgt. Nathan Reed lost his lower right leg).

As we’re sitting there, they were trying to call for help to get a medevac out there. But everything was so close to the bomb that it had wiped all of our equipment out — our radios. We had to wait for everything to reset. I think they said we were there about an hour, an hour and a half, just waiting. They finally called our First Sargent with a cell phone we had and they finally came out and got us. It was a National Guard unit that happened to be driving around in the area at the same time. They came over and assisted with some of the help.

I remember when those Humvees finally came to take us back, I just remember in my head, remembering every single little turn and bump that we had to go through. I just kept telling myself I just had to make it to the hospital right there in Baghdad (Baghdad Combat Support Hospital) and I was going to be all right. We were only about 10 miles away from the hospital, really not that far.

There were a couple of us that were on the verge of death because we had lost so much blood during that time. I saw the medic packing some of my wounds with gauze, but as soon as he put it in, it was soaked. He could not get the bleeding stopped. I had an I.V. in each arm — two I.V.’s going. I found out later that I had heart failure twice, on scene, before I got to the hospital. Then I had heart failure again at the hospital.

They said the doctor (had to open his chest) had to actually massage my heart to get it started again in the hospital. I now have a big scar going down my chest. Then, both of my lungs collapsed and I had some brain damage from the concussion of the blast.

At the U.S. Army Hospital in Baghdad, they stopped all the bleeding and then wired my jaw shut. They pretty much stabilized me as much as they could. I later found out that as soon as I hit the hospital in Baghdad, they knocked me out. I was in a drug induced coma for, I think they said, six to eight weeks. As I said, I did have the heart complications as well as the lung problems. So, it was better for them to knock me out for my own well being.

Then they flew me to Germany, to Landstuhl Medical Center. As far as I know, they didn’t do any surgery type things, but I do know they did some washouts where they wash the wounds out to make sure infection doesn’t set in. I was there for about a week before they flew me to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas to the Brook Army Medical Center. At San Antonio, they did skin grafs and minor surgeries at first, just to get a lot of the skin to re-heal before they went back in.

They waited a couple of months because my primary injury to my leg was my patellar tendon. All of it was torn out. Luckily, the knee cap stayed but everything below it was gone. They did a muscle flap, they took some of my calf muscle and just flapped it over my knee. Then, they took some skin from my thigh and put it on top of my knee. I was in the hospital in San Antonio for two, two and a half months.

The plans were to go back in and rebuild the patellar tendon but during that time, I was doing physical. I’d go for three to four hours a day because that was all there is to do. And, I just wanted to get better and be walking again. At that point, it was October 2006, they decided not to do the surgery because I was able to walk and bend my leg without the tendon. I don’t know how, but some how I was.

But then, in February 2007, we re-evaluated it all and we decided that since I was only 24 at the time, it might be the best thing, to actually do the surgery. They said if I was older, it’d be a little different but since I was younger, I should have it done. We tried to do the surgery from February to October of 2007, but we were fighting the whole time because I had gotten an infection in the knee. We just couldn't get rid of it.

Finally in October, the doctors went back in and they cleaned all the infection out and cleaned out everything that they had done. The doctor told me that the knee cavity was liquified. Luckily they went in when they did, I guess. Then, from that point we had talked about going in again, but I declined it. I didn’t want to do anymore.

After that, it was November 2007, we started doing my jaw surgeries, which we were taking bone grafts from my hip and putting them in my jaw. We were going to implant some teeth, but this is like 46, 47 surgeries later. I finally told them I didn't want to do the teeth surgeries or anything. I was done. Three years later, I’ve pretty much gotten use to how everything is working in my mouth, at least. Nothing was too bad. But, I still have a titanium rod in there. We were going to take it out, but  we decided to leave it in there just so that it holds it together and gives it strength. I’m missing just two of the molars on the lower jaw. The whole jaw was gone after being hit by shrapnel. There was like three pieces — the whole bone was shattered into little pieces. They took one chunk out that was like an inch or so long that had a tooth still in it.

I don’t know just how much metal and glass they’ve taken out of me. As far as we know, with that (particular) bomb, it was just shrapnel from the car (it’s estimated that the car was packed with 500 pounds of explosives). We have seen many others where they do put nails, bolts, anything and everything they can in to the bomb to make more shrapnel.

They said both of my lungs had collapsed and I’ve actually had trouble with my intestines as well. Last year, in July 2008, they had to take out a foot of my large intestine because I got diagnosed with Crones Disease. As far as I know, I had a minor case of it prior to the accident. But with all the medication and all the unneeded stress, it pretty much made a minor case turn in to a pretty severe case of Crones. I can’t even work or do anything now because of it. It definitely affects what I can eat. I really have to watch what I eat sometimes. I’m on a special diet but because of how bad it is, it doesn’t really help too much.

I have to get a shot once a month. They give me a shot in each of my legs. It’s the treatment for the Crones but there is no cure for it. That’s as far as they’ve gotten in the research. They really don’t know that much about the disease. Because of the stomach issues, I have to go to the bathroom five to ten times a day.

Today, pain? I’m use to that. I live with that all day, every day, physical and mental. On a scale of one to ten, the physical pain is a 10. It just hurts, whatever I do — any movement, whether I’m moving or just sitting still. I’ve gotten use to it  a little bit, but still, not being able to walk up the stairs very well, having to take a lot longer.

But with the mental part — when my commander got killed, I took a lot of blame for that upon myself because I felt I should have, could have done something to save him. It’s that — it gives me nightmares a lot. I don’t really sleep much at all. My commander was a mere 10 feet or so from me when the bomb went off. I realize that there was nothing that I could’ve done and the bad things is that I know that, but it doesn’t help. I'm still trying to convince myself of that though. I still have the nightmares where I can feel the heat, still, from the fire, the smell of it, the taste of it.

I don’t really do any physical therapy with the hospital anymore. I do a lot of stuff on my own. I ride my bike a lot — that’s the one thing that really does help my legs. You know, I can’t really run or walk very much. I ride 20 to 25 miles every other day, me and a friend of mine. He’s an ex-Marine and he’s got a bad knee too, but his is non-combat related.

In February 2007, my unit had come back to the states and we were up in Fort Hood, Texas for a military ball on Feb. 11. I had wanted my unit to be there when I was received my purple heart and that’s when they awarded ot to me, as well as a combat action badge. It was good to have it given to me by my unit, my friends. My battalion commander actual did the presentation. He has since retired from the army.

This is the only dad my daughter has known really — me being injured. It’s nothing different for her in a sense. But I still just wish that, you know, ‘cuz I dread those later on years when she wants to run around and play--when I’m not going to be able to do anythng. I won’t be able to do it as much at least. But, maybe I’ll be better by then.”
Besides the injuries he mentioned in his story, Sgt. Justin Farrar also suffered severe injuries to his left leg and a punctured ear drum. He still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is on the road to recovery and attributes much of the success of his recovery to the many prayers that have been given in his name.

Justin, Amy and their daughter, Arianna, visited the United Church of Marion, where their aunt and uncle attend, to personally say “thank you” to the congregation for their many thoughts, prayers and care packages sent to them. The church’s Women’s Ministry presented Justin with a specially made medal honoring his service. A potluck lunch was then held in his honor.

On Memorial Day weekend in May 2009, Justin competed in a triathlon, supported by Amy.

Source: Newark, NJ

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