In Their Own Words: Iraq war veterans tell their stories.

Staff Sgt. Chris Bain

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Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, March 19, 2006; 12:00 AM

Chris Bain was severely wounded on April 8, 2004, when a small group of insurgents attacked the Al Taji base camp at dusk, just as the convoy he commanded was rolling out on a mission.

He said it was the best and worst day of his four-months in Iraq; hours before being wounded he discovered that his identical twin brother had arrived in Iraq with another Army unit.

Bain underwent physical therapy and reconstructive surgery on a forearm and hand mangled by a mortar that exploded at short range and an elbow that was hit by a bullet. He remains very supportive of the war, was active in President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign and is mulling a run for Congress as a Republican. Bain is married and has three children -- a son, 15, and 6- and 4-year-old daughters.

At the time of his deployment, Bain had been in the military almost 13 years, including eight years of active duty that included deployments to Somalia, Egypt and Korea. Before arriving in Iraq, Bain said his his superiors explained that U.S. troops were seen as the tools of the world's "No. 1 power." Iraqis, he was told, felt "a little threatened" and "don't want to be overrun."

"But at the same time," Bain said he was told, "there are going to be a lot of [Iraqis] that would be happy to have us to secure them."

A typical day in Iraq for Bain included teaching infantry skills, radio operations and tactics, SUCH as how to clear a building and check chemical or radiological activity. "You know you hear all about weapons of mass destruction, WMD. Hey, WMD is anything that could destroy this nation, and eventually the whole world. That could be anything, one big bomb, even IEDs. That's a WMD," he said.

Earlier on the day he was injured, Bain has been on a convoy to Camp Anaconda. He went through a checkpoint at Anaconda and was surprised to see his twin brother there, whom he didn't even know was in the country. "When I ran into my brother, I said [to my men], 'You do what you're going to do. I'm going to stay with my brother all day.'" When Bain left the camp that afternoon, he told his brother he would see him in a few days. His brother replied, "OK bro, no problem."

Bain made it safely back to Al Taji. But then he and his squad were sent back out on another convoy. They were ambushed just inside the compound.

"There were four to six of them. They hit us with small arms, around 5:30 or 6 p.m. The sun was going down. I'm sitting in the back of a truck, sitting there relaxing. I was hearing mortar fire, and I asked if it was all outgoing. It took about 50 seconds for the first round to hit, about 50 meters in front of us. We jumped out, throwing people under cover for protection. I just stayed out there too long, making sure my guys were protected."

Bain said one soldier in his unit suffered a broken arm after Bain picked him up and threw him under the truck to escape enemy fire. "He was crying and crying. I said, 'Sh**, I think I hurt him.'"

A mortar landed three feet in front of Bain's face, ripping his whole left forearm. Then he was shot in the right elbow.

"I can tell you second by second. It comes back to me every day. All's I saw was all the blood. I was under a truck and just gushing. I lost three to three-and-a-half pints. I'm lucky I didn't bleed out. With all the adrenaline and all, I didn't feel my arm. I was crying over my finger."

Bain's ring finger was nearly severed by the mortar blast.

"Everything was like slow motion. I saw a medic. He was going, 'What hurts?' I couldn't hear him but I read his lips, saying 'what hurts?' I said, 'My finger, it's killing me.' He said, 'Your finger? Have you seen your arm?' I said, 'What's wrong with my arm?'"

Bain was taken to Anaconda. His brother didn't know he was injured until two days later. Five days after the attack, Bain was lying in Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Bain was left with nerve damage in his right arm, and he can't feel half of his right hand. With his left hand, he can make a fist, but other than that he can't really do much with it. The end of his pinky finger was reconstructed, and the ring finger was sewn back on.

"I'm not going to get any worse at this point. I'm not going to get any better. And I'm happy with it. My morale is still high. I wanted to go back, but they won't let me. I've also got short term memory problems now. I can't even remember your name. I have to carry a calendar and a note pad with me, and I don't write real good either."

Bain said he dreams about the attack all the time. "I have a hard time going to sleep, and every time I hear something loud, like the 4th of July is the worst holiday for me now. It used to be my favorite."

-- As told to Washington Post reporter Jonathan Weisman


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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