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Scars, experience tell tales

15 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Randy Bernard

Getting hit by an Improvised Explosive Device or mine is a fear every Marine carries with him to the battlefield. Getting hit twice is almost unthinkable.

Cpl. James E. Hammock Jr., a driver with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, has faced these hidden dangers on two separate occasions and lived to talk about it.

Before heading to Iraq, Hammock was stationed in Rota, Spain as a Marine security guard.  The 21-year-old native of Woodstock, Ga., provided ship security and augmented base security.  Arriving in Iraq was an extreme change of surrounding for Hammock.

"It was a culture shock, I traveled all over Europe and then I came to Iraq.  I went from the beautiful landscapes of Europe to the deserts of Iraq," said Hammock.

Hammock arrived in Iraq Feb 15, working with the Marines of Combined Anti-Armor Team Red.  The Marines perform road security, vehicle checkpoints and patrols through the cities around Al Qaim. It was on one such patrol he earned his first battle scar.

"We were patrolling out to a city to go check out some broken pipes," said Hammock, recounting his first encounter with an IED.  "We had slowed down to cross a bridge over the Euphrates and they set it off.  When it went off, I couldn't feel my arm.  The blast blew my arm back inside the vehicle.  My arm was numb and it was swollen so I thought I had broken it." 

Hammock said that once the smoke had settled, they saw a boat speeding off down the river, leading them to believe that the IED had been remotely detonated from the water.  Once the corpsman began to work on his arm, thoughts began to race through Hammock's mind.

"I wasn't worried about losing my life at the time, I was more worried about losing my arm," Hammock said.

Once he was sufficiently bandaged, Hammock was sent back to a hospital in Germany for further treatment and given time to recuperate.  From there, he was sent back to 29 Palms, Calif. 

Hammock soon grew restless back in the rear. 

"I volunteered to come back out here," Hammock said.  "It was worse being home, I worried about the guys out here doing patrols."

Hammock was concerned about his friends more than his own personal safety.

"As far as coming back, I wasn't worried, I knew where I was going and who I was coming back to," Hammock added.

"We thought we wouldn't see him again, and five months later, he came stumbling in all sweaty and asked if someone could help him with his pack," said Lance Cpl. Seth E. Williams, a machine gunner with CAAT Red.  "He is a good guy.  If there was a mission, he would always be motivated and want to go."

Williams added that although Hammock was always willing to go, he now carried twice as much medical gear with him.

After coming back to Iraq for only a matter of weeks, Hammock was again the victim of an IED attack. 

"We were patrolling through Ubaydi and we turned a corner when they set off a daisy chain of IED's," said Hammock.  "The first and second blasts went off, and nobody was hurt.  We turned around and the third went off.  The blast peppered my face and my side."

Hammock received only small scratches and wounds from the blast but he didn't panic. He was more frustrated than anything about the incident.

"I knew I wasn't hurt bad, I could still talk and I was coherent.  But I cussed up a storm because they blew me up again."

As soon as the dust had settled, Hammock re-manned his position on the gun, as the team resumed the mission.

Looking back on his experiences Hammock said that his time in Iraq was certainly unlike any other.

"It really wasn't that bad.  We are doing more with our lives than any other civilian could," said Hammock.  "It's a beautiful place out here, you just have to know where to look for it."

Although he now bears large scars across his right arm from his first injury, and the Purple Heart to go with it, Hammock is still glad he got a chance to serve in Iraq.

"The scars add character, shows you've been somewhere and done something," said Hammock. "I don't regret anything I've ever done, and I never will."
Hammock is scheduled to fly back to California by the end of September.