Thursday, May 11, 2006

Praying for Shane Mahaffee

I'm back "safely" in Baghdad after a 72-hour trip to Amman, Jordan, and Doha, Qatar, with Ambassador Khalilzad. I'll have much more to write about those trips in the coming days.

I mentioned very briefly on Monday that a buddy of mine from Ft. Jackson and Ft. Bragg, CPT Shane Mahaffee, had been seriously wounded in an IED attack last week. I'd originally written about this as soon as I heard, but after visiting him in the hospital realized that not all of his friends and family had been notified yet, and that some may accidentally find out through this web blog. So the only way you would have seen this post before I deleted it was if you were reading BOM between 0500-0600 EST on Saturday morning (and if so, really, I appreciate your interest and support, but get a life).

However, a friend of Shane's family has been mass emailing updates on his condition for a few days now, so it is now safe to talk about hiim.

Last Friday Shane was in a convoy near Hilla, about 60 miles SW of Baghdad, when his Humvee was struck by an IED with a shaped charge. Two of his fellow passengers were killed pretty much instantly, while another died on the Medevac helicopter. Shane's NCO, SGT Berry, who was also with us in the barracks at Ft. Bragg, lost his arm. Shane was "lucky" in a sense, only taking shrapnel through the back of his shoulder and into his left lung, which subsequently collapsed. Even as he was receiving medical treatment on the scene, he repeatedly insisted that they take care of his soldiers first.

I found out that he'd been transported to the Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone. I went and spent about five hours by his bedside as he passed in and out of consciousness, loaning him a pair of eyeglasses and providing updates to his wife Jennifer back in Chicago. Two other members of the "Dirty Dozen" (our name for the group of recalled officers who moved from inprocessing at Ft. Jackson to the Special Ops' Civil Affairs Course at Ft. Bragg together), Navy Captain Hank Domeracki and CPT Matt Lawton, were there to support Shane as well. (Matt was actually in the rear vehicle of the convoy when Shane's vehicle was hit. He subsequently ran the length of the convoy -- approximately 150 meters -- in full battle gear two or three times trying to help treat the wounded and call in a Medevac. Matt was understandably distraught to have witnessed such horror, but I hope that in time he realizes that he performed heroically).

As of last Saturday, Shane's condition appeared to have stabilized. They performed surgery to remove this shrapnel, and although they had to crack his chest, all they did was remove a part of his clavicle and his "Zeffir Process (sp?)" a small bone at the bottom of his breast plate.

Shane was conscious for most of the time I was with him, and demonstrating the strength of character that endeared him to all who spent time with him in the barracks. He was on a ventilator after the surgery, but still able to write notes. One of the first things he asked was "How are the troops?" When the Command Sergeant Major for MNF-I came to visit him, he wrote "I need to get better and get back with my team," and "This job is not done!"

We read stories of soldiers like this all the time, but it never seems quite real. But I stood there amazed at Shane's selflessness and dedication even as he was swathed in bandages, blood coming out of the tubes in his chest, and a breathing tube down his throat. Real heroes do exist, even if they don't get a fraction of the attention that those scumbags at Abu Ghraib received back in 2004.

I stayed with Shane until he was helo'd up to Balad, and eventually flown to Landstuhl, Germany. However, since then his condition has taken a turn for the worse. He has developed pneumonia and a pulminary embollism (a.k.a. blood clot) in his "good" lung. Although he is making progress and the doctors believe he will pull through, he is still in critical condition.

So I'm asking everybody who reads this to please say a prayer for Shane, as well as for his wife and two small children. Any support we can offer, whether spiritual or physical, is only a fraction of what Shane would have done had the situation been reversed. Thank you, and G-d bless you all.