"There's a fire! A fire! Drop the ramp. We got to get out of here!" Army Spec. H.F. "Trey" Garrison III heard the scout next to him scream as they huddled in the dark belly of their Bradley armored vehicle, surrounded by 1,200 rounds of live ammunition.
"We can't," shouted the commander of the Bradley, which was filling with smoke. "They're shooting at us!"
Garrison, bleeding from the left leg after the Bradley was hit by a large-caliber Iraqi shell during a skirmish near the northern Saudi border, wondered at that moment whether he would make it back home to his family in Fairfax County.
"Anything on the other side of the berm is enemy," Garrison recalled that his commander had yelled a few minutes earlier, as a group of U.S. Bradleys, each carrying five soldiers, approached a six-foot-high wall of rock and sand in the late afternoon of Jan. 22.
Saudi troops had taken refuge on one side and Iraqis were firing on them from the other.
"About two minutes after pulling out in front of the berm, we started taking fire," said Garrison, 21. "I couldn't see what weapons they were using from my periscope. But it had to be about .50-caliber -- anything smaller shouldn't puncture a Bradley. At the moment I was hit, I had two cans of ammunition in each hand . . . . If they ignited, I wouldn't have to worry any more. I'd have been on my way home -- dead."
In a rare firsthand report from one of those wounded in ground fighting in the Persian Gulf War, Garrison recounted the battle in a telephone interview from his hospital room in Saudi Arabia.
One of the first Americans to receive a Purple Heart in the conflict, the Vienna resident also provided an eyewitness view of the medical facilities near the front lines. He saw other wounded U.S. soldiers, including one shot when his rifle accidentally discharged, another suffering from second- and third-degree burns on his hands and face, and a third who suffered back injuries in a helicopter's crash landing.
The Defense Department, which has not given reporters access to hospitals or wounded Americans in Saudi Arabia, officially lists 12 U.S. soldiers as wounded in action. The Pentagon released scant information on the Jan. 22 skirmish, during which they said two Americans were slightly wounded and six Iraqis were taken prisoner.
Garrison's unit is part of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, one of the most forward units of Operation Desert Storm. As a scout, Garrison said his job is to "monitor Iraqi intelligence troops." He said he has spent most of the days since he landed in October inside the 7-ton armored personnel carrier or near it, on the lookout for Iraqis who could be taken prisoner.
While on its regular border patrol on the clear, chilly day he was wounded, the cavalry regiment heard that a nearby Saudi company was under fire and decided to go to its aid, Garrison said.
"Our commander said, why don't we go see if we can do anything for the Saudis," he recalled from a hospital in King Khalid Military City. "When we got there, about half the platoon started to engage targets."
Garrison said he did not know how many casualties occurred in the skirmish. The other observer in the rear of the Bradley, Cpl. Mark Valentine, who is from New York City and most recently was stationed in El Paso, received a "grazing and fragmentation wound" in his leg, Garrison said.
When either a bullet or fragment blown into the Bradley went through his left calf, Garrison was trying to gather ammunition for the vehicle's M-60 machine gun. Then he felt the "burning" in his leg and saw a flash and smoke near the pile of ammunition.
"I'm not as clear about what happened after we got hit," said the 1987 graduate of Oakton High School, who used to toss a Frisbee at Burke Lake Park and watch movies at Fair Oaks Mall.
"There was a lot of screaming. My intercom got disconnected, so I couldn't hear the driver," he said. After his Bradley pulled behind the berm, a medic came to his aid to make sure that his leg was wrapped correctly and that Valentine was okay.
The Bradley drove south behind the berm for about three kilometers, where Garrison was met by a "There was a lot of screaming. My intercom got disconnected, so I couldn't hear the driver."
-- Army Spec. H.F. "Trey" Garrison III
helicopter and taken to the 5th MASH unit. After spending five days there, he was transferred to the King Khalid Military City hospital, which he said is staffed by American doctors and by nurses from Ireland and the Philippines.
Pentagon spokesman Steve Walker said officials are not keeping track of non-combat military injuries in the Persian Gulf, which run the spectrum from "scorpion bites to someone being wounded heavily, but not in combat."
Generally, only life-threatening wounds are reported to a soldier's family, unless he or she makes a special request, according to Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy spokesmen.
Garrison's father, a computer scientist in McLean, was never officially notified of the injury that has kept his son in a hospital for almost three weeks. He learned of it 10 days after it occurred, when another soldier telephoned him.
"I was a little upset about not being called," said Hugh F. Garrison, Jr., who said he had checked a military hot line number after hearing reports that two soldiers in his son's regiment were wounded, but learned nothing.
Garrison said there are "probably less than 10 Americans on any given day" at the King Khalid hospital. He said he was told that several of them were involved in motor vehicle accidents. Soldiers with serious injuries, he said, are flown to hospitals in Germany. Minor wounds are tended in the field.
Now healing after two operations on his leg, Garrison expects to return to his unit in about 10 days.
"I'd like to go back to the States," he said, "but I don't want to leave my crew short-handed . . . . Most people here expect us to go to a ground war."
But his father hopes a ground war won't start soon.
"The longer the air campaign, the better," he said. "It brings it home, when you have a son over there."