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Injured Troops Look for Courage, Face Fears

"We don't make policy," he said. "We take care of patients who walk through our doorstep. Sometimes it brings tears to our eyes. But that doesn't help the patient."

Lovell, the emergency physician, said a rocket hit the Marine outpost six hours after he arrived to join the hospital in August. "The first day they missed me," he said, then dropped his voice and added, "They didn't miss someone."

Dennis Astor, 22, received second degree burns when a suicide bomber attacked his military convoy on Oct. 30, killing eight and injuring nine. (Jackie Spinner -- The Washington Post)

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In a back ward at the hospital, doctors and nurses have kept together the platoon members injured in the ambush last Saturday. Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Benedict, 28, of West Milford, N.J., whose face and arm were burned, said some of the injured were having nightmares. The events are hard to forget, he said.

The unit had been in Iraq only two weeks when it was hit.

"It was a bad day," he said. "We had no losses before that."

The platoon was riding in the middle of a truck, sitting back to back on sandbags, a protective measure against an attack.

Benedict said he didn't see the bomber and only remembered hearing a loud noise and then looking to his right where a column of Marines had been sitting. "There wasn't anybody else," he said. "There was just smoke."

As soon as the car bomb exploded, insurgents began firing weapons and rockets at the convoy, he said. The heat from the truck began setting off ammunition and mortar rounds in the packs on the truck.

Benedict said the attack was clearly coordinated between the bomber and fighters hiding in the fields off the road.

"There were a lot of hard lessons learned," he said. "We know the tactics and techniques used by the insurgents. We're more alert to our enemies hiding among the locals. I think that's why everyone was mad at first. There was no way" the locals did not know what was going on.

But Benedict said if the unit took part in an offensive on Fallujah, they would not seek revenge on the city's residents.

"We know you can't get angry with the locals, the regular people who want freedoms," he said. "It's the insurgents."

Benedict said the unit was eager to return to duty and to whatever operation that might be planned for Fallujah.

"We're anxious to get back and go back in," he said. "Nobody wants to remain here."

Astor said he knew he would probably be left behind because his burns were not healing fast enough.

"It's hard to get over it, but you just have to," he said. His buddies from his unit come to visit at the hospital and Astor said he tells them he is fine. But "deep inside, every now and then you still see the faces of your dead friends."

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