Dispatches From Iraq: Under Distant Stars

Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.


Click here to read the full dispatch.

He was shot four months ago — nearly to the day — in a stinging attack that caught the American soldiers as they were driving their Humvees through Mosul. But Command Sgt. Major James Pippin realized they were in a "nearside ambush" and ordered his driver to assault directly into the rocket-propelled grenade and machine gun fire.

Riding the offensive momentum, the American soldiers dismounted their Humvees, moving into the attack, disorganizing the ambushers. Pippin shot one in the face. Then a bullet found him.

As supersonic rounds snapped through the air, one bullet tore through Pippin’s right calf before it smashed into his left leg. His tibia shattered, Pippin fell to the ground as the firefight raged on around him, bullets popping off the Humvees.

While their buddies continued to fight, American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter pulled Pippin from the open into a Humvee. Pippin’s attack into the ambush had broken the enemy effort, but he was bleeding all over the Humvee.

Humvees are terrible for medevac; there is no way to lay a soldier down. Sometimes, when the bullets are still flying, the best option is to stick the wounded and any disassembled parts inside the Humvee and race to a hospital. Pippin was driven to one of the nearby "Combat Support Hospitals," or CSH.

I was in Anbar when word came that Pippin had been shot in Mosul. I remembered our first encounter.

Pippin didn’t have much use for the press, but through time he eventually invited me to cover his soldiers. I’d spent about five months in Mosul in 2005 at a time when we had about 9,000 Stryker soldiers there. When I returned to Iraq’s third-largest city in early 2007, we were down to a single battalion, or roughly 700 servicemen and women, of which maybe 400 were actual fighters.

I spent about a month with Pippin and his soldiers, writing about their efforts to hold fast against any erosion of gains, as Iraqi security forces increasingly carried the load.

Soon after my embed with the 2-7 CAV ended, I made one other visit to a CSH. Among the many wounded was one soldier who had been terribly maimed by an IED during an ambush. It is hard to describe the extent of his injuries. These CSHs host a daily array of gunshot wounds of every description, traumatic amputations and severe burns, but his wounds were horrible even by those standards.

As blood soaked through his bandages, a pretty, young nurse walked out into the hall and burst into tears. A doctor called the soldier’s father and gravely related the truth: The staff would try to keep him alive until Germany, so his family could be there at the end.

Still wearing full combat gear, some of his buddies were there to see him off from the CSH. Other off-duty soldiers were there to help load the wounded onto the buses, which drove us all to the C-17 parked on the tarmac. We roared into the night, heading to Landstuhl, Germany.

During the flight, the nurses steadily checked the patients, especially the dying soldier, farthest back on the plane. Many soldiers’ hearts make it to Landstuhl before finally succumbing.

While this flight was very unpleasant, there are worse: the "Angel Flights," as the soldiers call them, are for soldiers who return home in flag-draped coffins.

I’d seen Pippin and his soldiers load comrades onto Angel Flights in Mosul. In those cases, an aircraft goes to the major bases, picks up the coffins and flies home. After their Angel Flight home, it’s often one last flight to the airport nearest their hometown before being laid to rest under the cracking of rifles and the stirring flare of final "Taps."

Click here to go to Michael Yon's Web site.


Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.