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thedrifter
02-13-06, 07:33 AM
Iraq veteran battles injuries, depression
By DON AMEND
The Powell Tribune

POWELL (AP) -- Despite being wounded three times in three different conflicts and battling pain from shrapnel he still carries in his back, Powell resident Gary Peabody would do it all over again.

"Its my country," he said.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

The wounds that ended Peabody's military service came early in the Iraq invasion in a brutal battle near Baghdad. He was one of only seven in his unit who survived the battle; last Thanksgiving, one of the other survivors committed suicide.

Now at home on disability, Peabody has, himself, battled depression and bad dreams as well as pain, but said he is now recovering "with the help of Jesus."

Peabody comes from a military-oriented family. His father fought in three wars, and Peabody's twin brothers served in Vietnam. One was wounded during the Tet Offensive in 1968, and one died in the battle of Khe Sanh.

Today, his oldest son, Matthew, is stationed in Iraq with the 4th Infantry.

Peabody grew up in Wisconsin and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1987. During his tour, the U.S. invaded Panama, and he was hit by a mortar fragment during the action.

He left the Marines in 1991 and moved to Powell, where he had vacationed with his family, "because I always wanted to move out here."

He met and married his wife, Shari, and worked for Big Horn Enterprises.

But in 2001, things weren't going so well economically for his family, and he talked to a recruiter about re-entering the military. He enlisted in the Army and began basic training.

Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Two days later, Peabody graduated from basic.

Bad battles

He was in one of the first units deployed to Afghanistan and spent six months in the mountains pursuing the Taliban. He received his second wound when a bullet hit his flak jacket. The bullet didn't penetrate, but broke a plate in the jacket, which caused the injury.

"I don't even remember being shot," Peabody said. "I just found myself lying on the ground. I didn't think I had even been hurt."

But the impact had caused some internal damage, and Peabody was put on convalescent leave.

When the Iraq war began, Peabody was stationed with the 12th Infantry in Kuwait. He was technically still convalescing from the injuries he had received in Afghanistan, but he had signed a waiver to be deployed with a Stryker brigade as a sergeant.

When the 2003 invasion began, his unit advanced into Iraq and initially met light resistance, but the resistance stiffened as they approached Baghdad. The unit was deployed in the Baghdad area as a blocking force. Iraqi units attacked, but American firepower destroyed their armor, and they withdrew.

Peabody's final battle came when his platoon, with one Bradley fighting vehicle, was sent into a suburb on a reconnaissance in force mission.

"They let us walk right into town," Peabody said. "Then it seemed like the gates of hell opened up. I counted 11 RPGs in the air at once."

The Bradley was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, wounding the gunner. Under heavy fire, the unit got the crew out of the vehicle and began to pull back into a building. As they did, "the volume of fire went up exponentially," Peabody said.

The destruction of the Bradley and casualties in the street deprived them of their radio equipment, making it impossible to call for support, and the unit took additional casualties retrieving the dead and wounded.

"We had a large amount of casualties," Peabody said. "Ten were wounded right away, and there were three fatal wounds."

The unit set up a defense in the building and fought off three attacks. Iraqi forces got into the building each time before the Americans drove them back in hand-to-hand combat. During the first attack, Peabody's thumbs were broken, and, when the Iraqis were beaten back, "half the platoon" was down, Peabody said.

"The wounded kept trying to get back into the line and fight," he said. "I lost all my gunners."

The second assault came when Iraqis found a way in through a sewer line, and again they were beaten back. The sewer line was mined to prevent them from using it again, but the Iraqis attacked a third time.

"The last time the enemy got in, it was really bad," Peabody said. "We had a lot of wounded and killed, and only six or seven of us could walk around. We were down to no fighting strength, but we could still form a perimeter around the wounded."

Even the seriously wounded continued to defend the position, Peabody said.

"One guy lost a foot, but wanted to get back in the line," he said. "There were guys who lost legs and arms, but stayed in place."

Peabody suffered a number of injuries in addition to his broken thumbs. Although his flak jacket protected his torso for the most part, some shrapnel still found its way under the jacket, and he had wounds in his legs and arms.

"My flak jacket was so full of shrapnel that if you had run your hands down the front of it, they would have been all cut up," he said.

Finally, help came, after an officer managed to work his way through Iraqi forces and radio for help. Artillery and Apache helicopters forced the Iraqis to withdraw, and the rest of the battalion attacked them as they pulled back.

Only seven members of Peabody's unit survived the ordeal.

"It would have been different if we hadn't lost our radio in the initial attack, Peabody said.

'Jesus helps'

Since the battle, Peabody, who is now out of the military on 100 percent disability, has had difficulties, drinking and experiencing marital problems. He had bad dreams and thoughts of suicide.

But in recent months he has found spiritual support through his church.

"I was a mess when I got back here," he said. "I was spiraling down, and I credit the Lord Jesus, who came into my life when I hit rock bottom."

The turnaround came one Sunday as Peabody listened to Rick Edwards, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Powell.

"His sermon struck a pretty deep chord in me. I haven't drunk a drop since, and I've been going to church regularly and praying," Peabody said. "The bad dreams are still there, but Jesus helps."

Peabody also credits church members for "the love I received there when I was near the bottom."

Peabody traveled to Denver recently for medical evaluation. A piece of shrapnel lodged close to his spine has him in pain much of the time, and neurosurgeons will be examining him to see if the shrapnel can be safely removed. His hope is that he can eventually go back to school and possibly learn to fly.

Despite his troubles, Peabody doesn't regret his service in Iraq. He believes the invasion has taken the war to the terrorists, who "are over there going after our soldiers who can shoot back instead of attacking us here."

"We're helping a nation that was being murdered by a madman," Peabody said of former leader Saddam Hussein. "He was a dictator that needed to be removed."

"I was proud to serve my country," Peabody said.

Ellie