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Soldier Survives 19 Bombs, Mortar Attacks in Iraq

By Spc. Erin Robicheaux, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2005 – Thirteen improvised explosive devices, five mortar attacks, and one car bomb -- that's the scorecard of Army Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Sandel's tour in Iraq.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Sandel patrols in his Bradley fighting vehicle. The 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, soldier is serving in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 156th Regiment, of the 256th Brigade Combat Team, and has survived 19 bomb and mortar attacks. Photo by Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuckey, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

This DeRidder, La., native has faced those kinds of encounters more times than any other soldier in the 256th Brigade Combat Team. He counts his blessings every day that he is still here.

Sandel said his inaugural mission "outside the wire" was a prophetic vision into what lay ahead for him and his soldiers, when they were met with a mortar attack. A few days later, he said, he hit the first IED, and only now has it begun to slow down.

"November and December were busy for us," said the 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, now serving in Iraq with the combat team's 1st Battalion, 156th Regiment. "Right now, it's been three weeks since I've been hit, and that's the longest I've gone without (being hit) in a while."

According to Sandel, his platoon's reaction to an attack has improved with each incident, and actually has become second nature. If something happens, they immediately begin sweeping the area for threats. Along with incorporating the training they received at Fort Hood, Texas, he said, they have a strategy that works best for them, and within two seconds of getting hit the platoon members are out and scanning their sector.

"It's just like brushing your teeth now," he said. "We have this process down to an art."

The platoon recently lost Sgt. Seth Trahan, from Crowley, La., to an IED attack. Sandel said that until this happened, getting hit seemed normal -- just part of the job. The soldiers were clearing an intersection, and as Trahan rounded the corner, the device went off, instantly killing him and wounding two others.

"We weren't complacent on the patrols, by any means," said Sandel, "but until it killed somebody, getting hit was a routine thing."

Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuckey from Shreveport, La., is the command sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment. He said Sandel's spirit and enthusiasm for his job have not diminished over time, even in the face of such adversity.

"A lot of the guys who get hit by IEDs get scared and start to wear down, but Sandel has not," said Stuckey. The leadership that Sandel has shown is exemplary and shines through in his own attitude for his job, and also in the attitude of his soldiers toward him.

"He never stops, and he's always high-spirited," said Stuckey, "his soldiers like to go out with Sandel, and I think they'd do anything for him."

(Army Spc. Erin Robicheaux is assigned to 256th Brigade Combat Team public affairs.)

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