"Don't let me die, Scottie"

07-23-2005, 08:17 AM

'Don't let me die, Scottie!'
By Liz Zemba, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dozens of empty bottles of drinking water lay strewn in front of a crumpled mass of metal near Ash Sharqat, Iraq, that used to be an armored Humvee. Soldiers of a Connellsville-based Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit used the water, taken from cases they carry with them in their vehicles, to douse a fireball that engulfed the Humvee after it was hit by a suicide bomber, trapping one of the men.

The four Pennsylvania Army National Guardsmen whose armored Humvee erupted into a ball of fire when it was hit by a suicide bomber near Ash Sharqat, Iraq, shouldn't have lived.

Not Spc. Timothy "Timmy" Boots, of Connellsville.

One foot twisted and pinned between the floor of the mangled, burning Humvee and its gas and brake pedals, all Boots could do to save himself was call out for help.

Not Spc. Kevin Claycomb, of Scottdale.

The blast threw Claycomb into the Humvee's passenger-side door, sending the soldier and the door crashing into the sand. His face crushed and his left pelvis broken, Claycomb lay atop the door, flames jumping and licking all around him, too stunned to move.

Not Staff Sgt. Jason Leisey, of Lancaster, Lancaster County, who suffered third-degree burns from the top of his left shoulder to the tips of his fingers.

Not Sgt. Mark Bowman, of Friedens, Somerset County, whose body was peppered with shrapnel.

All of the guardsmen except Leisey are members of Connellsville-based Company B, 1st Battalion, 103rd Armor, which is stationed north of Bayji, Iraq, with the U.S. military's Task Force Dragoon. The unit's duties include patrolling an oil refinery and supply routes, as well as carrying out raids and other combat operations, according to unit commander Lt. Col. Philip J. Logan.

The wounded soldiers were riding in one of five armored Humvees that had just completed a route-supply mission on April 7 at the time of the 8:15 p.m. attack. They were a quarter-mile from their base when the vehicle carrying the bomb sped toward them, crashed into Boots' Humvee and exploded.

Claycomb said no one should have survived. He said he and the other soldiers are alive today for one reason only: the quick actions of their fellow soldiers.

"If it wasn't for them, I might not be here," Claycomb said, speaking from his Scottdale home, where he is resting on convalescent leave while awaiting further surgeries. "If it wasn't for them reacting the way they did, the four of us might not be here."

A soldier's promise

The promise Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman Sgt. Scot Sage had made to his wife, Amy, before departing for Iraq didn't occur to him until after he had rushed into the wall of fire that engulfed the mangled Humvee.

"Thoughts of my wife were running through my head," Sage said, recalling the suicide car-bomb attack in an e-mail. "I told her that I would not do anything heroic, and that I would promise her that I would make it home to her."

But turning back at that point was no option for the South Connellsville man. His fellow soldier and friend, Boots, lay trapped inside the burning Humvee, his right leg broken and his foot tangled in the wreckage.

Recalling rescue skills he learned back home in Fayette County, where he is a member and former chief of the South Connellsville Volunteer Fire Department, Sage dropped to the ground and crawled under the flames to reach Boots.

He emptied nine fire extinguishers into the raging fire, to no avail. Thick, black smoke blinded him. The roar of the blaze drowned out his pleas for a flashlight.

Intense heat sparked unspent ammo stored inside the Humvee. After a round dinged and ricocheted off the Humvee's metal door frame, Sage tore off his flak jacket and threw it over Boots.

"The fire was getting worse, rounds were going off a lot more," Sage said. "I can remember laying across Timmy to protect him from the fire and the rounds. The whole time he was yelling, 'Don't let me die, Scottie. Get me out of here.'"

Boots' cries fueled Sage's resolve.

With his bare hands and a knife, Sage grabbed and slashed at the twisted metal holding Boots captive. Other soldiers soaked the two men with more than 300 20-ounce bottles of drinking water, keeping the flames at bay while Sage hacked at the wreckage.

"I just remember thinking, I can't let him die, and I have to get him out of here," Sage said. "I just kept using my Gerber knife to cut, pry, rip and twist the metal and floor boards out of the way, anything that I could to get him out.

"Finally, after pulling and prying, I got his foot out," Sage said.

Boots' right leg was fractured. Sage applied a tourniquet to Boots' thigh and held the man's leg straight so others could splint it.

Only then, his hair singed, suffering from smoke inhalation, did Sage begin to comprehend the life-threatening danger he and the other soldiers had faced.

"I remember going over to a vehicle that was there and breaking down," Sage said. "That was the first time, in almost 18 years of doing that stuff."

Quick reaction

While Sage was struggling to free Boots, Claycomb lay unconscious outside the Humvee, his body less than a foot from the burning vehicle.

Facial bones around both of his eyes were fractured. His left hip was broken.

Claycomb doesn't recall any details of the bombing. From conversations with his rescuers, he said, he learned that Spc. Justin Shallenberger was the first to reach his side.

Shallenberger immediately pulled Claycomb away from the Humvee, sparing the Scottdale man from burn injuries. Mindful of the M-16 rifle rounds cooking off inside the Humvee, another soldier administered him an IV while the unit's medics tended to the other injured men.

The soldiers' quick, automatic response, Claycomb said, saved lives.

"They didn't think about what they had to do; they reacted," Claycomb said. "It was pretty amazing what they did. I can't thank them enough."

Leisey, of 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry, a Philadelphia-area guard unit, somehow managed to exit the Humvee just after it was hit. In a telephone interview from Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, he said he saw the bomb-laden vehicle moments before it slammed into the Humvee.

"It swerved around Scot Sage's vehicle, which was pretty close, right in front of us, then it swerved back in," Leisey said. "That's the last thing I remember."

Sage said he saw Leisey emerge from the flames and collapse. Bowman was discovered 20 feet in front of the wreckage.

Leisey said he apparently passed out because his next memory is of waking up along the road. He didn't know he was hurt because the fire had destroyed the nerve endings in his left shoulder, arm and hand, leaving him with no sensation.

He made his way to a truck that was ferrying soldiers back to base, then walked to an aid station where Sage was receiving oxygen and other soldiers who had suffered minor injuries were being treated.

Once the other soldiers persuaded Leisey to accept treatment, he was put on a helicopter with Claycomb, Boots and Bowman for evacuation to an Army medical facility in Mosul, Iraq.

All but Bowman were later flown to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then returned to the U.S.

Long recoveries

Of the four wounded guardsmen, only Bowman, who was treated in Iraq, has returned to the unit.

Boots and Claycomb were treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

A portion of Boots' right leg below the knee was amputated. He also suffered multiple fractures of his left foot, fractured ribs, a hairline jaw fracture and a small liver laceration.

Boots declined an interview request. His mother, Sheila Boots, of Connellsville, said he is an outpatient at Walter Reed. He has been fitted for a prosthetic device and is undergoing physical and occupational therapy and hopes to return to California University of Pennsylvania, where he was studying when he was called to active duty with the Guard.

Claycomb underwent several surgeries to rebuild his eye sockets and repair his pelvis, and he faces at least one more surgery in October. He requires crutches to walk, but two weeks ago he was able to bear significant weight on his left leg for the first time since the bombing.

He is determined to walk again without assistance so that he can stay in the military.

Leisey said he lost most of his left ear to the fire, and all of the fingers on his left hand had to be amputated. When he first arrived at Brooke, he was placed on a ventilator and lay in a coma for 13 days.

He underwent four skin graft operations and spends six hours daily in physical therapy. He expects to be fitted soon for prosthetic devices for his hand and ear.

Band of brothers

Logan said every company in Task Force Dragoon, which is a mixture of 750 Pittsburgh- and Philadelphia-area guardsmen, has been hit at least once by vehicle-borne bombs. The terrorist-funded weapons encountered throughout Iraq initially were aimed at killing U.S. forces, he said, but more recently have been used against Iraqi police and civilians.

Logan said Sage and other soldiers who helped rescue the four wounded guardsmen in the April 7 attack have been recommended for awards.

But Sage does not look upon his actions as heroic.

The true heroes, he said, are Boots, Claycomb, Leisey, Bowman and the combat lifesavers who provided the first aid that kept the wounded men alive until they could be evacuated to Mosul.

"I am not a hero," Sage said. "I am just a simple man who knew what to do at the time, and I was not going to give up until (Boots) was free. ... After looking at the Humvee and talking to other people, they all said that nobody should have lived from that, but I am here to tell you that the guys of B Company, 1st Platoon, 1/103rd Armor all became heroes that night in April.

"We all became a band of brothers, and we were all determined not to let one of our brothers die."

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07-23-2005, 10:55 AM
:troops: :army: :salute: :up:

07-23-2005, 11:16 AM
Well "said", Popeye. It's good we see what our guys are having to go through over there. God Bless them All. :up:

07-23-2005, 12:06 PM
These men are true HEROS :ngk::army::salute:

John Henry
07-23-2005, 01:42 PM
"Hand Salute .... Present Arms" !

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