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Injured Marine Defies Attackers (1 finger salute)

RAMADI, Iraq - Once Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt realized he could wiggle his toes and fingers, he had one message for the insurgents who wounded him - defiance.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt signals defiance at his Iraqi attackers after being injured by an improvised explosive device near Ramadi. Attending to the Marine were Nebraska 167th Cavalry members Spc. John Adams (far left, in front) of Hastings, Neb., and Pfc. Darin Nelson of Fremont, Neb.

Burghardt, of Huntington Beach, Calif., started his third tour in Iraq trying to beat the insurgents to the IEDs - improvised explosive devices - and disarm them before the insurgents could set them off.

As is often the case, Burghardt and his Explosive Ordnance Disposal team were accompanied to a bomb site Monday by the First Platoon, 167th Cavalry of the Nebraska National Guard.

One IED had blown up a Bradley fighting vehicle and killed a U.S. soldier. As often happens, the insurgents left behind more IEDs. Burghardt disarmed two bombs that were found - quick action that probably saved the lives of several Nebraska soldiers.

But he couldn't get to a third.

When word spread that the third device had been found, 167th Capt. Jeff Searcey of Kearney, 1st Lt. Matthew Misfeldt of Omaha and their men hit the ground as a blast exploded skyward.

Burghardt was wounded.
But with two new young Marines in his ordnance disposal unit - and the insurgent attackers undoubtedly looking on - "I didn't want them to see the team leader carried away on a stretcher," he said.

So after the Nebraskans tended to wounds that reached from his boot tops to the small of his back, Burghardt rose to his feet and reached back with a one-finger salute for his attackers.

"I was angry," Burghardt said.

IEDs - which can be roadside bombs, car bombs or other booby traps - increasingly are the weapons of choice for the Iraqi insurgents.

Unwilling or unable to attack U.S. forces head-on, the insurgency has used the hidden explosives, often detonated by remote control. Some analysts have estimated that nearly 12,000 IED incidents occurred in Iraq in 2004.

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal units are assigned to locate, identify, disarm and dispose of IEDs. The Nebraskans alongside Burghardt's unit provide security at the scene, guarding the perimeter while the EOD teams do their dangerous work.

The 1st Platoon has been on 80 such missions, including some false alarms, since the 167th Cavalry arrived in Ramadi about 90 days ago.

Working together, the ordnance disposal Marines and the Nebraska National Guardsmen have developed a mutual respect - there's no Army-Marine trash-talking here.

"The biggest threat to us in Iraq is IEDs. We love working with them. They make us better soldiers," Misfeldt said.

Burghardt, an 18-year Marine with 15 years' experience disarming explosives, returns that admiration.

"I feel part of this Army team," he said. "They take care of us like brothers."

Burghardt received the Bronze Star during his last tour of duty for disarming 64 IEDs. This week's incident was his first injury.

Burghardt, 35, wouldn't accept painkillers when he was brought back to camp by the Nebraskans. He knew he might need them later. And he's not looking to leave Ramadi for five more months.

"I don't want a ticket out," he said. "I want to stay here so we can take as many people home as possible."

Soldiers all the way up to the brigade's commander, Col. John Gronski, viewed a photo of Burghardt - on his feet, arm extended and middle finger raised - as the embodiment of the American warrior.

As for Burghardt, he said he wanted to send a message to the insurgents who failed to kill him.

"I knew there was somebody disappointed out there."




Down Range - To Iraq and Back
by Bridget Cantrell, Ph.D. and Chuck Dean

An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping
by Ashley B., II Hart


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