Our next hero from week before last is SGT Tommy Rieman, Silver Star
just 10 days away from leaving Iraq. He had orders to report to Fort Bragg for assignment with the 82nd. He was looking forward to spending Christmas with his family, and couldn't wait to leave.
As it turns out, Rieman was headed home, but not in the way he planned.
At the time, Rieman was with Company E of the 51st Infantry Long Range Surveillance Unit, part of V Corps LRS based in Darmstadt, Germany. His LRS unit had been conducting operations in Iraq since the war began. The mission that day was to investigate reports of suspicious activity at the residence of a former high-ranking general in Saddam Hussein's regime.
Rieman was in charge because he had scouted the area before and knew the terrain. LRS units are not supposed to engage the enemy, and Rieman's squad of eight men, while prepared for a fight, was not expecting one. They were driving in three light-skinned Humvees with no doors when the first rocket-propelled grenade hit.
"The thing I remember most was the sound of the explosion. It was so loud," said Rieman.
They were hit by three RPGs and a barrage of small arms fire coming from 10 dug-in enemy fighting positions. Staying in the kill zone meant certain death, so the vehicles never stopped moving. Rieman knew he had to return fire.
"I dove into the backseat, laid across the gunner's legs and fired out the door," he said.
Bullets whizzed after them as the vehicles sped away from the ambush. As soon as they were safely out of the area, they halted to assess the damage. Suddenly shots rang out, and Rieman and his squad found themselves caught in another ambush.
The squad dismounted and began firing back. Rieman scrambled for cover behind his Humvee as bullets and shrapnel flew everywhere. He tried to stay calm and assess the situation.
There were maybe 50 enemy attackers blasting away at him with small arms fire from a grove of palm trees nearby. Injuries to his men were beginning to pile up. Out of his squad, Sgt. Bruce Robinson had lost his right leg in the RPG attack and Spc. Robert Macallister had been shot in the buttocks. Rieman himself had been shot in the right arm and chest, and had shrapnel wounds to his chest, stomach and ear. Worst of all, they were almost out of ammo.
Despite the odds and his injuries, Rieman knew he had to go on the offensive.
"I knew it was a little pain now or my life later," he said.
He began firing away with his M203 grenade launcher, raining round after round down on the attackers. After being battered by 15 of Rieman's 40mm grenades, the enemy's guns were silent.
The squad wasn't out of danger, but at least they had some breathing room. Rieman quickly set up a secure perimeter, called for a medical evacuation and support from the 504th's quick reaction force, and began tending to his wounded. And then they waited.
"That was the toughest part -- the waiting," said Rieman. "Just sitting there bleeding and questioning if this bird (helicopter) was ever going to come."
It seemed hopeless. One of the badly injured soldiers in his squad started to cry, and Rieman tried to comfort him.
"I just kept telling him, it's coming, it's coming," he said.
Finally, after half an hour that seemed like an eternity, the helicopter arrived. Rieman and the rest of his squad were loaded on and whisked away. Only when he was up in the air did Rieman accept that he was going to live to see another day.
"I remember the burning sensation in my legs (from the shrapnel) and how cold the air was in the chopper, and all I could think about was my wife. That's when I knew, hey, I'm coming home, I'm going to make it," he said.
Rieman spent 12 days in an Army hospital in Germany, and was back in the states in time for Christmas. He has been with the 82nd since the beginning of 2004. He said has been concentrating on getting his health back to where it was before he was wounded, and on spending precious time with his family.
When Lt. Mike Lee, Rieman's company commander in the 82nd, learned about what Rieman had done that terrible day in Iraq, he pushed hard to make sure Rieman didn't go unrewarded.
Despite his awards, Rieman said he's no hero. He only did what he was trained to do, he said.
"I dedicate everything I was able to do to my training," he said. "We reacted the way we did because we were taught so well.".