By Pfc. Paul J. Harris, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4ID
MUQDADIYA, Iraq – July 14th was the day hell paid Pvt. Eleazar Garcia, combat medic, a visit. While on patrol, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he and his squad mates were riding in hit an anti-tank mine.
The Bradley’s fuel line ruptured, hitting Garcia in the face and pouring fuel on his legs, which ignited. The Bradley filled with smoke rendering Garcia temporarily blind. Jumping out the hatch of the burning Bradley, Garcia said his head was ringing like church bells and his eyes were burning, but he knew what he must do.
“As soon as I got my vision back I saw my sergeant fall off the Bradley, he was in flames,” said Garcia, who is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment attached to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers.
“My pants were on fire, but I was like (expletive) my legs for right now,” Garcia said. “I went to help my sergeant get his Interceptor Body Armor off.”
Fortunately, the mine exploded near a canal and Garcia rushed to put his sergeant into its water. He then striped off his still burning pants before going back to the Bradley to help the others. Even though he too was burned, the most important thing to Garcia at the time was making sure all three of his squad mates were all right.
The two other Soldiers in the Bradley also suffered burns from the explosion and needed immediate medical attention. Garcia was able to move a second Soldier to the canal and extinguish his flames with water before the MEDVAC helicopter arrived.
As he was helping the third Soldiers, the Bradley’s ammunition was beginning overheat and explode. Garcia paid no attention to the rounds cooking off as he climbed the embankment to get to the third Soldier.
Garcia looks back at this moment and chuckles a bit because he was naked from the waist down, running to find his squad mate while dodging rounds from the burning Bradley.
During this time the MEDVAC had arrived and a still half-naked Garcia helped load all three patients into the helicopters before he himself was medically evacuated to Logistical Support Area Anaconda. At the LSAA he was treated for burns and smoke inhalation, and six hours later found himself on a flight to Germany.
Garcia said he was upset on the flight over because he was listed as a litter patient and unable to get up and go talk to his squad mates. Sadly, after arriving in Germany one of the Soldiers Garcia tried so hard to save, passed away.
With the loss of one Soldier and two others suffering, one with second and third degree burns over 60 percent of his body, Garcia found it difficult to visit his squad mates – to see them in so much pain. It was a constant reminder of the hellish day they spent together, he said.
Not wanting to stay in Germany, he gave everyone around and connected to him two choices.
“He told them in Germany either you send me to Brook Army Medical Center (in San Antonio, Texas) or to my squadron, because I do not want to stay here anymore,” said Garcia’s section leader and treatment NCO Staff Sgt. Robert Loring. After ten days in Germany, Garcia was sent back to his unit in Iraq.
“He came back ready to go,” Loring said. “He wants to go out on the line, but we’re holding him back. We almost lost him once, he has done his time.”
Garcia and the rest of 1-32 CAV are due to return to the U.S. soon. He said he’s looking forward to taking some time off to go back to his hometown of Harlingen, Texas to visit with friends, family and taking a trip to San Antonio to see his two squad mates who are now recovering at Brook Army Medical Center.
In the meantime, Garcia calls his parents frequently to let them know he is OK, and to tell them about the medal he received. Even now, he says when he calls home his mother worries and often scolds him.
“You better not be doing anything crazy! And I am like, chill out mom,” Garcia said.
For his actions on that day, Garcia was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor Aug. 1, during a ceremony at Forward Operating Base Normandy near Muqdadiya, Iraq. The day of the ceremony Garcia had mixed emotions about receiving notoriety for his actions.
“I felt weird,” Garcia said. “I was trying to help my guys, not get a medal.”
Though Garcia might have been uneasy at accepting a medal, others in the audience were proud for him including his first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Kevin Statam.
“He was hurt. He was wounded. And he put that to the side and went and helped his guys out,” Statam said. “In my eyes that makes him a hero.”
3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team
Task Force Band of Brothers
Public Affairs Office
Baqubah, Iraq (FOB Warhorse)