Warriors' Voices: CPL David Kelley, 1st Cavalry Division, US Army, Retired
“…I was in the third vehicle, the one that took the hit. When the thing blew up on us, it pushed me down into the floorboard. I didn’t think I had any legs anymore, from the pain I was feeling…I remember telling our driver to stop, but he wasn’t even there anymore.”
The main reason a very restless David Kelley entered the military at 17 was that he was tired of school. “I called every branch,” he remembers. “I left messages with all of them; The Navy was the first to call me back.” And so Kelley began his military service as a Navy man in 1994.
Having literally seen the world during four years of active duty, Kelley thought the military chapter of his life had come to a close upon separation in 1999. But the uninspiring job market he encountered on returning home to Poplar Bluff eventually propelled him back into the service. Arrangements as outlined by an Army recruiter in 2003 convinced him that this, in fact, was the way to go from that point forward.
After having received training as a combat engineer and been stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, Kelley was deployed in 2004 to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 91st Engineering Battalion. He says they were stationed at “a Baghdad base out of Camp Victory”, near Baghdad International Airport.
There is an irony inherent in two of Kelley’s most powerful memories of his time in Iraq. One of these memories is of the profound monotony associated with routine patrol duty; the other, in stark contrast, is of the potential for sudden and violent death in those very same circumstances, and others, from quarters and by means too numerous to fully apprehend.
One situation might see Kelley sweeping for mines in vast farming plots. A more typical scenario had his squad raiding Iraqi homes in search of weapons; Kelley says the Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Companies of the 91st staged 550 such raids in 16 months, and discovered no shortage of weapons for their labors.
Patrol duty itself, of course, was not always unremarkable: “We found 500 artillery rounds in one field on patrol, with most being buried, or partially buried. We called EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) to deal with them. But then we discovered 300 more there the next day,” he sighs. “There’s just never enough time to catch them all.”
Then there was the matter of “simply” getting from Point A to Point B on the job, in a territory wracked by war and its attendant chaos. “My truck got 8 direct hits in almost 12 months,” recalls Kelley. He explains that roadside “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs) of varying designs were involved, but that these all had in common the use of a single modified artillery round.
Of some of those IEDs, Kelley says, “Two were fuel-and-soap devices…That stuff sticks to your truck, and then there’s fire everywhere.” As to others: “Two devices were set up in cans, one was encased in concrete, and the other was buried”.
Having continually escaped, unscathed, such dangers on the road, Kelley saw his luck run out on December 12, 2004; that was the day an IED blast sent his truck skyward, flipping it over and slamming it down off the road his squad had been traveling on patrol.
Please watch for Part II of CPL David Kelley’s story, coming Wednesday here at semo.net.
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