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Arnold NCO weathers unfamiliar job, attacks in Iraq

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Beverly Isik
  • Arnold Engineering Development Center Public Affairs
His team was one that pioneered the way for today's Airmen who are finding themselves fighting the Global War on Terrorism as warfighters on the ground as well as from the air.

When Master Sgt. Bryan Larson last deployed to Iraq, he thought he was going as a truck driver. However, a few days before he left, he learned he'd be doing something entirely different this time - something he wasn't trained to do.

He answered his country's call without question -- the fourth time since 1991. Instead of driving tractor trailers, he would spend the next six months running gun trucks providing security for truck drivers. As he hit the road each morning, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along with small arms fire reminded him of the danger he faced. Fear, coupled with bravery, kept him focused.

"If you're not scared in a situation like that, something's wrong," said the first sergeant from the Arnold Engineering Development Center here. "If you take that fear and use it to your advantage, you're no longer afraid - you're vigilant. It keeps your mind on the mission."

He remembers one day vividly. It started like countless others. As vehicle commander for 20 trucks, he was in an unarmored vehicle that was fifth or sixth in line. With less than 10 miles left on the two-day mission, an IED detonated as his truck passed. He will never forget the flash nor the explosion as glass and shrapnel pierced his body, knocking him unconscious.

"When I woke up, I was soaking wet and in excruciating pain," recalled the Alleman, Iowa native. "My first thought was I had lost my right arm. I felt around and thought, 'I still have my arm. It hurts, but I still have it. I looked at my driver and said, 'We heard it, so we're still alive.'" This was something he had learned during convoy training.

Together they pulled the gunner in through the turret. The cab was covered with blood, the glass was blown out and only one tire survived, but they kept rolling.

"We had to get out of the kill zone," he recalled. "A lot of times when they use an IED, they try to separate the convoy and ambush you. If your vehicle is able to move, you move."

After a mile, the truck quit. An Army patrol responded, stabilized the three and transported them to Balad Air Base for treatment.

Sergeant Larson received the Purple Heart in August 2004. His body still has imbedded shrapnel and his hearing is affected by a constant ringing in his ears. He has gone under the knife twice -- once to repair damage in his nose; another to fuse disks in his back. He's humble about his experience and, in his heart, doesn't feel he merits the honor.

"I have 10 fingers and 10 toes, two arms and two legs, and both eyes and both ears," the 17-year veteran said. "I have some scars, but scars are just scars. I think about the guys who are missing a leg or an arm. When you look at my injuries compared to theirs, I'm pretty damned lucky.

"Maybe there should be different categories of Purple Hearts," said Sergeant Larson. "Some get it because they get a nick; some because they get a leg blown off. They get the same decoration. I didn't earn a Purple Heart. Someone tried to kill me and it was awarded to me. Do I deserve it? According to the rules, yes. It's not something I'd ever want to earn."

Sergeant Larson is scheduled to deploy to Iraq again in September.