This first hand story, heard last Saturday during a video
teleconference between brigade and division commanders, about a
single episode in continuing operations, exemplifies the
dedication manifest in the combat zone. This story concerns
Michael Burghardt, a Marine Corps Gunnery
Sergeant, who is part of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
Team that is supporting the 2nd Brigade of the
28th Infantry Division (Pennsylvania Army National
Guard). His service and spirit, represented by this
defiant gesture, demonstrates the true attitude
of most of our troops on the ground in the War on Terrorism.
a defiant gesture by|
Gunnery Sergeant Michael Burghardt
an exemplar of the warrior spirit
photo by Jeff Bundy for the Omaha World-Herald
Leading the fight is Gunnery Sergeant Michael
Burghardt, known as Iron Mike or just
Gunny. He is on his third tour in Iraq. He had become a
legend in the bomb disposal world after winning the Bronze Star
for disabling 64 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and
destroying 1548 pieces of ordnance during his second tour. Then,
on September 19, he got blown up.
He had arrived at a chaotic scene after a bomb had killed four
U.S. soldiers. When clearing the scene, he chose not to wear the
bulky bomb protection suit. "You can't react to any sniper fire
and you get tunnel-visioned," he explained.
So, protected by only a helmet and standard-issue flak jacket, he
began what bomb disposal officers term the longest walk,
stepping gingerly into a 5 foot deep and 8 foot wide crater. The
earth shifted slightly and he saw a Senao base station with a
wire leading from it. He cut the wire and used his 7 inch knife
to probe the ground. "I found a piece of red detonating cord
between my legs," he said. "That's when I knew I was screwed."
Realising he had been sucked into a trap, Gunny
Burghardt, aged 35, yelled at everyone to stay
back. At that moment, an insurgent, probably watching through
binoculars, pressed a button on his mobile phone to detonate the
secondary device below the sergeant's feet. "A chill went up the
back of my neck and then the bomb exploded," he recalls. "As I
was in the air I remember thinking, 'I don't believe they got
me.' I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was
lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist
His colleagues cut off his trousers to see how badly he was hurt.
None could believe his legs were still there. "My dad's a Vietnam
vet who's paralyzed from the waist down," says Sergeant
Burghardt. "I was lying there thinking I didn't
want to be in a wheelchair next to my dad, and for him to see me
like that. They started to cut away my pants and I felt a real
sharp pain and blood trickling down. Then I wiggled my toes and I
thought, 'Good, I'm in business.'" As a stretcher was brought
over, adrenaline and anger kicked in. "I decided to walk to the
[medevac] helicopter. I wasn't going to let my teammates see me
being carried away on a stretcher." He stood and gave the
insurgents who had blown him up a one-fingered salute.
"I flipped them one. It was like, 'OK, I lost that round but I'll
be back next week'."
Copies of a photograph depicting his defiance,
taken by Jeff Bundy for the Omaha World-Herald, adorn the walls
of homes across America, and that of Colonel John Gronski, the
brigade commander in Ramadi, who has hailed the image as an
exemplar of the warrior spirit.
Sergeant Burghardt's injuries – burns and
wounds to his legs and buttocks – kept him off-duty for
nearly a month, and could have earned him a ticket home.
But, like his father – who was awarded a Bronze Star and
three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam
– he stayed in Ramadi to continue to engage in the battle
against insurgents who are forever coming up with more ingenious
ways of killing Americans. A dedicated professional, he will
shortly resume his role of making the world safer.