The things he saw and experienced that day in Iraq sometimes return to Tarik Jackson at night. Sleep would be difficult anyway, with his shattered right arm in an immobilizing cast and bullet wounds in his hip and thigh. The nightmares, though, make it almost impossible to sleep comfortably.
"It's hard to sleep sometimes," said Jackson, a U.S. Army staff sergeant whose 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Tex., was ambushed March 23 outside Nasiriyah, "thinking about what happened, just replaying the whole thing in my head."
As Jackson, 28, spoke today from a luxury suite at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where he watched a baseball game as an honored guest of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, his Purple Heart sat in front of him on a table. Awarded to Jackson on Saturday in his hospital room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, it appeared pristine, as if untouched. "It's an award nobody wants," he said. "Nobody wants to be combat-wounded."
Because the investigation into the attack is ongoing, Jackson was unable to answer some questions about what happened that day, when the rear-guard convoy from the 507th was ambushed by paramilitaries in southern Iraq. But some details of the attack and Jackson's heroic actions in its aftermath are beginning to emerge.
According to relatives contacted by military officials after the attack, Jackson, who is married and has a 9-month-old son, was shot as he tried to save his fellow soldiers.
"The military told us that he walked for a mile after he was shot and kept encouraging the others to come along with him," an aunt, Adrianna Hunter, told the El Paso Times.
At least nine members of the 507th have been confirmed dead, and five are prisoners of war. Another soldier taken prisoner in the attack, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was rescued by Special Operations forces.
"I never really doubted I would make it," Jackson said today. "I'm a pretty strong-minded person. But there was a point the adrenaline was so heavy, I didn't realize I was shot as much as I was."
After being rescued by a Marine helicopter, he was taken to an Army hospital in Germany, where he spent a week before being transferred to Walter Reed on April 1. Surgeons repaired his shattered upper arm by inserting a metal plate and screws.
Because of damage to his radial nerve, his rehabilitation will take two to six months.
He plans to resume his army career, but as for returning to Iraq, he said, "Knowing what I went through, it's hard to say. If I had choice, I wouldn't. But if I had to go, I would."
Jackson was one of eight U.S. service members wounded in Iraq -- six from the Army, two from the Marines -- who attended today's game between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. Only Jackson agreed to speak to reporters.
Before the game, the service members were visited by Orioles pitchers Buddy Groom, Jason Johnson and Willis Roberts.
Jackson, a self-professed sports fan and former basketball and football player at Miami Springs Senior High School in Florida, savored his day pass from Walter Reed, shoving down a pregame hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut, and enjoying the game with his cousin, Deirdre Pollock.