Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bravery Under Fire

I have been blessed to serve with some great American soldiers over the years. One of these was Sergeant First Class Dan McKinney. Although he also served in Vietnam, we did not know each other then. I had returned from Iraq by the time he arrived there.

It was not unexpected that, at some point, Dan would distinguish himself in the war on terror. The following op-ed piece tells the story:

Vietnam vet ignores wounds, saves comrade in Iraq
Special to the Orlando Sentinel
September 24, 2005

Sgt. First Class Daniel McKinney had just given his Iraqi police students a lunch break. Entering the small dining area in the Iraqi military compound, McKinney sat down with his meal, glancing up briefly as the door opened. An American lieutenant walked to the door and McKinney looked back at his food. At that moment, the suicide bomber standing in the doorway exploded.

As the terrorist blew himself up, the lieutenant and another American, along with at least two Iraqis, were killed instantly.

As many as 18 other soldiers, including six Americans, were wounded. One of those was Dan McKinney.

The force of the explosion lifted McKinney up from his seat, throwing the table onto him. Still conscious, he knew he was wounded but he did not yet realize how bad those wounds were. Then he heard a wounded American soldier on the floor behind him. Not knowing if there were other bombers or if a larger attack was underway, McKinney picked the man up and carried him to safety through a hole in the wall.

Doing what seemed natural, McKinney turned to go back into the room to see if others needed help. He was stopped by soldiers who saw his injuries and took him to a casualty point nearby. There it was discovered that one of his legs was injured and that there was blood in the folds of his uniform.

Once the critical injury to his abdomen was discovered, a race against time began. As McKinney lapsed into unconsciousness and then into a coma, his life fell into the hands of the medics who took care of him from Iraq to Germany and then to the States. His coma lasted for four days, and he woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, badly wounded but alive.

Service to his country is what Dan McKinney has always been about. I first met him when he and I joined the Third Battalion, 347th Regiment, an Army Reserve unit based in Orlando. Right away we understood each other. After all, we both had served in Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division, although in different years. We were also some of the “old soldiers” of the unit and proud of it.

Dan left our Reserve unit some years ago, continuing his civilian career as a federal agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In fact, as he was being called up for duty in Iraq with the Army Reserve, McKinney was on a list from that federal agency to go to Iraq to train border guards. Destiny would lead him to that war one way or another.

Dan is not bitter in the least. He still believes in the Army’s mission in Iraq. He calls the Iraqis he worked with “good people” and specifically mentioned his young interpreter. The young man was a university student before the war, and he enjoyed talking to McKinney about democracy, freedom and how excited he was about the future of Iraq.

McKinney, a Florida native who lives in Miami, is getting the best medical care in the world since the Aug. 23 attack. He has endured four operations and will likely have at least two more. After a lifetime of service to his country, both as a civilian and a soldier, he has a lot of friends to support him in his recovery.

Americans are blessed to have men like Dan McKinney standing between them and those who would destroy their way of life. In fact, one day recently he received some special visitors. The young soldier he pulled to safety came to the hospital with his family to say thanks.

A warrior like Dan would say that what he did was not a big deal. After all, for guys like him it was just another day at the office.

SFC Chuck Grist

1 comment:

  1. The following comment was posted today, 12-2-14, by Mary on another blog post:

    "Charles, you wrote a story about Sergeant First Class Dan McKinney.

    I thought you might want to be aware that Dan McKinney served last watch on November 26th.

    “Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”. (author unknown).

    I am honored to have known one of the true warriors.

    Show Officer and Sgt. McKinney 10-7."

    My answer to Mary's comment was:

    "Dan was much more to me as he had been my friend for many years. Although we served in Iraq in different years, we had served together in the Army Reserve where our common Vietnam service (and our careers in law enforcement) created a lifelong bond. I also wrote about him in this blog, including the article from the Orlando Sentinel. That blog post is here
    Dan and I continued to miss connections during the years following our last war. We had said we would someday linkup for a cold beer. Now we shall have to link up when my turn comes to head to 'Fiddler's Green.' Godspeed, my friend...."