<bt>For Specialist Brian Crump, the hardest part of being in Iraq was when he got blown out of his Humvee. He was on patrol near Ramadi when the vehicle he was in ran over a mine. The blast that blew Crump clear out of the vehicle killed one man and so severely wounded another that he is still recovering at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“If my door had been closed …” Crump said, shaking his head as his voice trailed off.
Crump, 22, grew up in Herndon and graduated from Oakton High school in 2001. He joined the fire department in Dale City in Prince William County just after graduation. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks occurred soon after he had joined. “I was fresh in the fire department when that happened,” he said.
Crump stayed in the department for about two years before joining the U.S. Army. He parlayed his experience as an EMT into serving as a field medic in the Second Infantry Division. He served for 10 months in South Korea and then had less than two weeks to visit home before going to Iraq.
His unit was designated as field artillery, but they ended up doing different sorts of work like patrols in the area looking for mines (or Improvised Explosive Devices as they are called in the Army) and raids on houses.
The first few weeks, Crump's unit had problems with snipers, he said, but that calmed down after a while. Being a soldier under fire for the first time is impossible for him to explain, he said. The range of emotions come in a rush: fear, adrenaline, confusion, and always in the back of his head training. “It’s everything all wrapped up in one ball,” he said. “Things you didn’t even know you had. You never second guess yourself.”
FOR A LITTLE WHILE, combat can get easier to deal with as the sensations become more familiar. “Until somebody gets hurt. Then, you start all over again,” he said.
During his time in Iraq, 14 members of his unit were killed.
Crump said he felt their deaths acutely, since, as the medic, it was his job to help them. In some cases, the wounds would be too severe for him to do anything, but he still wanted to. “It’s hard because when you’re out there, you feel like, whether you could save them or not, it sits on your shoulders,” he said. “You do a lot of thinking, a lot. But I can’t think about it too much, it’s in the past.”
Having a soldier die is not the sort of thing for which Army trained him. “That’s one of those things you just have to learn first hand,” he said. “It sucks.”
The flip side of that is the dozens of men he saved with other kinds of injuries, some of whom are recovering in U.S. hospitals because of his efforts. Crump saw some of those soldiers when he returned to the U.S. a couple weeks ago. “It’s a super feeling.” It made him feel like an artist who has just completed his masterpiece. “You finish your work, you did your job and it’s like a famous painting,” he said.
Crump was the guest of honor at a welcome back party at the Vienna American Legion Hall on Aug. 7. He’s a tall young man with a firm handshake and a quick smile, and dozens of people came out to greet him.
“He was in the fire department and then the Army. Honestly, he’s a real life American hero,” said Charles France, a friend who has known Crump since middle school.
Crump’s mother, Cathy Crump, walked around the Legion Hall being the good host and making sure that everyone who came had something to eat and a chair to sit in.
The last year had been hard for her, and she was thankful for all of the support she had received from friends, family, coworkers and members of Floris United Methodist Church. During a brief conversation, every few seconds she would look over at the son who, a week before, had been in a war zone.
“I’m extremely proud, but extremely relieved,” she said.
“The person that Crump is, he doesn’t go into anything without 100 percent heart,” said David Conklin, another childhood friend. “He might act impulsively, but it’s because he loves what he’s doing.”
For Crump, being back is not what he’d expected. “It doesn’t even feel like I’m back,” he said. He’d been in Korea for 10 months and Iraq for a year, and he came back to find the constant construction in the area had changed the town he remembered. “I feel at home, but at the same time I don’t.”
Some habits have come back from Iraq with him, as well. Soldiers would eat quickly because the mess hall was simply a large tent and they didn’t want to be in it for very long. “It’s a soft building and you don’t want to get blown up,” he said.
He still eats quickly now that he’s back. “Little things that you do, those are the habits that kept you alive over there, so they were pretty important to you.”
Morale, Crump said, is fairly low. “We haven’t accomplished much over there,” he said. While in some parts of the country soldiers are able to interact with civilians, that didn’t happen much where he was.
Everything they were able to do and to build would be torn down by the insurgency.
“We’re not moving in a forward direction,” he said. “We’re losing too many guys for nothing.”
Crump said that the soldiers also feel unappreciated. While he does like seeing the yellow ribbons on people’s cars, that sentiment doesn’t reach Iraq. “You still don’t feel like you have that support. You feel like you're third page news.”
The coverage he has seen of the war is not descriptive enough, he said. Reports only include the number of casualties, but not the details surrounding them. “If three guys were shot 47 times in the head, you pay attention,” he said.
For now, Crump will return to Fort Carson, Colo. where he will finish his tour of duty. In May 2006, his tour will be over, and he expects to return to the fire department, although he hopes to move to a station in Fairfax County.
Crump hopes never again to set foot in Iraq.
“Never,” he said. “It’s too hot over there.”