Post-Traumatic Stress



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'Already in Hell,' He Just Kept Going


FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- When Army Spec. Christopher Waiters popped out of his Stryker vehicle last year in an Iraqi marketplace, he started shooting at insurgents as gunfire crackled around him.

With snipers on buildings and bullets whistling by him, the Soldier grabbed his medical gear and ran about 100 meters toward a burning armored personnel carrier.

A bomb -- part of an al-Qaida ambush -- had blown a hole in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, engulfing it in flames. Plumes of smoke filled that intersection in Baqubah. Waiters, a medic, managed to pull two Soldiers out of the vehicle -- and helped recover the remains of a dead comrade inside.

For his bravery April 5, 2007, the former member of Fort Lewis' Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team received the Distinguished Service Cross on Thursday during a ceremony at the military base south of Tacoma.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, thanked the 26-year-old for his courage and service. "Never forget that you are the strength of the nation," Chiarelli told Waiters, now a staff sergeant, and Soldiers in the audience.

Before pinning the Army's second highest award for heroism on Waiters' chest, Chiarelli looked at him, raised his arm and saluted. Later, Waiters' father hugged him. And fellow Soldiers erupted in applause.

Waiters had just finished his shift around 9 a.m. on that April day when he heard an explosion and received a radio dispatch.

"Voodoo, let's go," Capt. Tim Price said, using Waiters' military call sign. Price was the commander on scene during the battle.

Waiters raced in his Stryker vehicle to the intersection. Against the wishes of the vehicle's commander, he hopped out. He knew that U.S. Soldiers were hurt and that they needed him.

"They wear the American flag just like me," Waiters said Thursday in recounting the battle.

Al-Qaida operatives had set an ambush for U.S. forces. Knowing that Americans would respond to a burning vehicle, gunmen waited for American Soldiers to arrive.

On one nearby building, Waiters spotted two men spraying bullets from machine guns. From another building, three others fired weapons at the Americans and people in the street.

Civilians in the marketplace scattered. The rattle of a heavy machine gun manned by a fellow U.S. Soldier also filled the air. U.S. sniper teams made their way to the fight.

Waiters just focused on reaching the burning Bradley. As he ran through the gunfire, common sense began to hit him.

"I'm already in hell. I might as well keep going," he said he thought as he ran to the burning wreckage.

"When you're scared, you can do a lot of amazing things. I figured, 'Keep moving' and I won't get hit."

When he reached the Bradley, he jumped on top of it. But the flames were too high and the heat was so intense that he jumped off. He raced to the back door.

He squeezed through the door and began feeling his way around. He spotted a Soldier's legs and boots and went to grab them.

But the smoke filled the compartment, forcing Waiters to leave for a moment to catch his breath.

At one point, about 15 rounds of 25 mm ammunition from the Bradley started exploding.

In the end, he ran a few times to the Bradley and pulled out two Soldiers and called for helicopters to evacuate them. To this day, he still does not know their names.

He also brought a body bag for his dead comrade in the Bradley, Sgt. Jason A. Shaffer, 28, from Pennsylvania.

Waiters' boots melted, and flames singed his uniform. But he wasn't hurt.

Sgt. Jeffrey Anello, another medic, arrived to help remove Shaffer's body. "Any hesitation on his part could have cost those two other Soldiers their lives," Anello said.

Waiters' Distinguished Service Cross is the 17th given since the 9/11 attacks, Army officials said.

Waiters is now based at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, where he works at the Bassett Army Community Hospital.

On Thursday, he thanked God for surviving combat in Iraq and said he would serve again in that country if necessary. He noted that he would rather die in combat than walking down the street.

"It's my job to bring them back at all cost. It's expected of a medic," he said. "It's weird being called a hero."


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