Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: An IED in Ramadi

July 25, 2008 |  8:00 am

By Saif Rasheed and Doug Smith in Ramadi

It was a comfort when our host, Capt. Jonathan Hamilton, told us attacks in Ramadi were down to about seven a month.

A Marine patrol had just dropped us off at Joint Security Station Karama, the outpost in western Iraq where we would spend four days with Hamilton’s weapons company. We were there to learn about the rebuilding of Ramadi, and we didn’t relish the idea of dodging bombs or seeing people get hurt.

But it didn’t take long to find out that Marines still face hazards.

Later that day, we were interviewing Lt. Col. Amer Ubaid Hays Rishawi, head of intelligence for the southern precinct of Ramadi police, when a policeman came in and told him to cut it short because there was an emergency.

We soon learned that three Marines were injured when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb. We were relieved to hear that the injuries were minor and that none of the Marines required hospitalization.

But our feelings about the attack took an eerie turn when someone mentioned that it was the same convoy that had dropped us off. The attack occurred on its return to Camp Ramadi.

Despite assurances that the patrol would have been out there whether we were in Ramadi or not, we felt in some way responsible.

These thoughts had drifted out of mind three days later when we returned to Camp Ramadi, the main base where we would start our journey home.

Img_1598 We didn’t remember Sgt. Josef Surunis, who worked behind a desk in the adjutant’s office and greeted us on our return.

But he remembered us. The fact that Surunis is the base personnel director doesn’t keep him from going on patrol. He was in the convoy that took us to Karama and in the vehicle that got hit. With him were Sgt. Micheal Lauderback and Lance Cpls. Michael Riddle and Patrick Minick. 

Surunis motioned us around his desk to show us photos of the wrecked Humvee. After realizing he was not seriously hurt, Surunis had taken out his camera to document the close call.

The whole engine compartment was blown away, back to the windshield. It seemed impossible that anyone inside had survived.

Surunis told us his story: He was in the first Humvee of the convoy, and when it reached a bridge, a pressure switch triggered the explosion.

“I couldn’t breathe because the explosion sucked all of the air out,” he said. “The dust was so thick that I couldn’t see the driver in front of me.”

Risking his life in case there was a secondary attack, another Marine raced to the Humvee to secure it.

Surunis said he had resolved never again to ride in the first vehicle.

But he wasn’t entirely unhappy with the incident that came so close to ending his life.

He said his state, the great state of Mississippi, has a program to pay for the college education of the children of troops wounded in combat.

As we said goodbye to Surunis, we felt strangely connected. Though we rationally understood there was no cause and effect, we still felt responsible for his nearly being killed.

At the same time, we could take some satisfaction, if what he said was true, in having helped pay for his kids’ education.

Photo: Marine Sgt. Josef Surunis, survivor of IED attack. Credit: Saif Rasheed, Los Angeles Times.

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from all over the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by registering at the website here.

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