CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Though a religious man, Cpl. Brian M. Henner doesn’t attribute Divine Intervention, luck, fate or destiny to the fact that he’s still alive after taking an enemy bullet to the head.
Instead, the 22-year-old U.S. Marine says it was his Kevlar helmet that saved his life in the middle of a gunfight between Marines and insurgents in Iraq’s Al Anbar province last week.
“If I didn’t have it on, it probably would have went into the top of my head,” said Henner, a native of Rochester, N.Y. “It didn’t just graze, it dug in to the helmet, but that’s why we wear them, though.”
Henner, a Marine combat photographer with Regimental Combat Team 7, was shot in the helmet when insurgents, hidden in a near-by tree-line, fired upon Marines manning a vehicle inspection checkpoint July 23.
The incident took place in Haqlaniyah – one of three Euphrates River valley cities in the western portion of Al Anbar province which make up the Haditha Triad region.
While snapping photographs of Marines searching locals’ vehicles, Henner says the Marines began receiving gunfire from a tree-line across the street. The Marines immediately took cover behind a car, but Henner was stuck in the road, where he was photographing from when the fire started, with just a small median to provide protection and concealment.
As the insurgents continued to fire against the Marines, Henner laid on his belly behind the road’s median – the only protection he and another Marine in the street had – and returned fire with his rifle before crawling along the median and away from the firing.
He says he was shot when he was crawling away from the firing. The impact of the bullet took a chunk out of the top of his helmet.
“I saw a flash and then, ‘Wham!’ something hit me in the head real hard,” said Henner, a 2002 graduate of Brookport High School in Rochester. “I knew it wasn’t a rock, and I thought, ‘Damn, I think I just got shot in the head.’”
With other Marines yelling at him to “Move!” – Henner sprang to his feet, ran for the car, and slid across its hood – breaking his camera lens in the process.
He then used his personal camera to record short video clips of the ensuing gun battle, which lasted less than 30 minutes altogether, he said.
“It wasn’t just another patrol to hand out candy,” he said. “I remember that whole 25 minutes pretty well.”
His parents were “surprisingly calm” about the incident after Henner told them on the phone what had happened, he said.
“She’s (mom) taken credit for this with all the prayers she says,” said Henner, who joined the Marines shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
“It makes me mad that people don’t remember that anymore,” he said. “That was a big recruiting drive for the U.S. military.”
As a combat photographer and two-time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, Henner has snapped thousands of photos of Marines, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces conducting security operations in Al Anbar province. He’s spent countless hours “outside the wire” with U.S. and Iraqi military forces, documenting the war through photos.
Still, this was the first “bonafide firefight” he’s been in, he said, although he “just lets it all roll off” his shoulders, the incident has made him a bit more “aware” to his surroundings.
“I carry a lot more (rifle) magazines now,” he said.
With less than six months left in the Marine Corps, Henner plans on leaving the military to pursue college, he said.
To view Henner’s photos, as well as the photos of U.S. Marine combat photographers throughout the world, go to the Defense Visual Information Center at http://www.dodmedia.osd.mil/.
Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: firstname.lastname@example.org.