Featured News

Salem, Ore., Marine injured in Iraq tells of IED aftermath

25 May 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

When some Marines return from Iraq, they bring back memorabilia, such as tattered Iraqi flags or old photos of Saddam Hussein they found in cluttered streets.

Some, like 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Jeremy Russell of Salem, Ore., will bring back memories of actions on the battlefield and scars from being wounded in action.

Russell, an Assault Amphibious Vehicle Crewman attached to the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was manning a machine gun turret in a humvee struck by an improvised explosive device, or IED, last month.

The battalion arrived in Iraq two months ago, and has since had to deal with numerous IEDs while patrolling the streets in the Haditha “Triad” region – an area of about 75,000 people along the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar province and renowned insurgent hotspot.

The blast left him with a piece of shrapnel embedded in his right hand and a severely bruised leg, and left three other Marines dead: Sgt. Lea Mills, 21, from Brooksville, Fla.; Sgt. Edward G. Davis, 31, from Antioch, Ill.; and Cpl. Brandon M. Hardy, 25, from Cochranville, Pa.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Russell.

The IED struck Russell’s vehicle during a three-hour mission to recover another U.S. military vehicle.

With vehicle in tow, the Marine convoy was enroute to their base at the Haditha Dam. It was 2:30 a.m., and the night seemed quiet, said Russell.

“I could hear the Marines below me talking about their families while I was in the turret,” said Russell.  “I just kept my eyes on the road behind me to make sure there were no vehicles approaching.” 

Still, he kept alert to ensure no vehicles approached the U.S. convoy. Aside from IEDs, vehicle suicide bombers are also a threat in Al Anbar province, said Russell.

Russell said the Marines’ talking in the vehicle “died down a little” just seconds before an earth-shattering explosion, which was followed by two fireballs on either side of the vehicle. Russell tucked his chin and closed his eyes, hoping to avoid the majority of the blast. He did. The blast destroyed the rear left side of the humvee and flipped the vehicle 180 degrees onto its left side. 

Russell was ejected from the vehicle onto the roadway and feared the vehicle would rollover on top of him. 

“It felt like minutes had past and everything was in slow motion,” recalled Russell.  “But it really took only two seconds for the IED to detonate and throw the vehicle on its side.” 

As he laid in the street, disoriented from the blast, Russell, who is serving his first combat deployment since he joined the Marine Corps in 2004 to “see the world,” remembers smelling fuel – a leak from the vehicle’s gas tank.

He also saw the vehicle's three other passengers lying motionless in the street.  Two of the Marines were killed on impact and another died a short time later, according to medical records. Russell climbed back into the humvee to notify the other Marines in the convoy of his situation, but the radio was broken.

Russell then notified Marines ahead of him in the convoy by using luminous flares he located in the vehicle.  He also rearmed himself with his M-16 rifle, ready to fight off a secondary attack. 

Believing he was the only Marine around, Russell saw Lance Cpl. Cheyenne Macintosh, an amphibious assault vehicle crewman from Seaman, Ohio.  Macintosh was traveling back to Haditha Dam in the same convoy as Russell. 

Macintosh, 20, was checking the mortally-wounded Marines when he noticed Russell had survived the blast and was completely covered in soot. 

Staff Sgt. Michael Woodridge, 28, a section leader assigned to Weapons Company, had several other Marines from other vehicles in the convoy secure the area and be watchful for a secondary attack. 

“It was chaotic,” said Woodridge, a native of Augusta, Ga.  “The back end of the humvee was completely gone.”

Shortly after, Russell was evacuated by helicopter to a near-by medical facility.  As his adrenaline began to wear off, he began to feel the pain from his injuries on the helicopter, he said.  Shrapnel was lodged in his hand, his right leg throbbed in pain after he was tossed around inside the turret, and eventually ejected onto the ground, he said.

Russell, who is now fully recovered and back to daily patrols with his unit, says the incident has not deterred him from patrolling daily.  Given the chance, he’ll deploy again to Iraq after his battalion returns to the U.S. in the fall, he said. 

“I never imagined I would be in a life-or-death situation,” said Russell.  “When I joined the Marine Corps, the only thing I knew about combat was what I saw on TV shows like M.A.S.H.”

As Russell recovers from the injuries to his hand and leg, his fellow Marines say he still has high spirits. 

“Russell has kept his head up high and still has his sense of humor,” said Macintosh.  “It helps everyone else in the platoon stay in high spirits until we can go home.”

Email Sgt. Seigle at: seiglemf@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.