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Wounded troops recount ambush by Iraqis

LANDSTUHL, Germany—The Humvee's gunner, Army Sgt. Charles Horgan, had barely yelled, "R-P-G!" before the front of his vehicle exploded.

The blast from a Rocket Propelled Grenade blew Horgan, 21, and Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane, 31, out of their Humvee.

Horgan, who had been standing and manning a .50-caliber machine gun, was knocked in the air and came back down on the vehicle. Villafane, in the passenger seat, was thrown out the side.

The two men sat in hospital garb Thursday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest military hospital outside the United States, telling journalists how they had been ambushed Sunday by Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians.

Joined at the news conference by Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Menard, the men had been in the first four evacuation flights that ferried 24 combat wounded to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

All three will return to the United States for further treatment.

The two Army soldiers and their driver, Pvt. Alonzo Lopez, who was uninjured, were in the lead vehicle of a scout team of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, comprising two Humvees, a Bradley fighting vehicle, an Abrams tank and another Humvee following the small column. They were sent to investigate civilians in Bedouin robes on a bridge about 30 kilometers south of Nasiriyah, Iraq, Sunday.

In the moments after he saw the missile and before it hit the Humvee, Horgan said he had three thoughts: "Wow, we're in a real war," "I'm going to die," and "Oh no, I'm just going to lose my legs."

Horgan, from Helena, Mont., scrambled off the Humvee. The blast had charred his boot and ripped open his right heel.

The blow knocked Villafane, a husband and father of three, onto the end of the bridge they had just crossed. When his wits returned, he began searching frantically for his M-4 assault rifle. No sooner had he retrieved it that he saw a wire-guided missile passing within feet of his face and hitting a second Humvee.

"I saw the wire," said Villafane, of Brentwood, N.Y. He crawled down the bank of the bridge seeking cover from rifle fire.

Under the bridge, Villafane saw a civilian carrying an AK-47 rifle. He trained his rifle on the man, who surrendered. The man removed his robe, revealing an Iraqi uniform.

Three more men dressed as civilians appeared under the bridge, all carrying AK-47s. They surrendered and removed Bedouin garb to show uniforms.

"It was four guys against me," said Villafane, who got shrapnel in his left hand and forearm and a broken ring finger.

While Villafane secured his prisoners, Horgan corralled Lopez, a soldier just out of high school, and took cover on the side of the bridge.

Menard, 21, part of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was shot in the left hand while he and several other Marines guarded a different bridge spanning the Euphrates River south of An Nasiriyah. Menard, of Houston, also said Iraqis in civilian clothing had opened fire with AK-47s.

The three agreed they were glad to be out of the danger area.

"Nobody can be shot at and say, `Wow, I really want to go back there, that was great,'" Horgan said.

As Villafane put it, "Getting shot at really wasn't that bad. It's the getting shot part that sucked."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-WOUNDED

Iraq

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