2,000 US Troops Dead in Iraq: One Survivor
Tells His Story
Thursday 27 October 2005
"I went to fight in Iraq to get revenge for 9/11... I found out Bush had led us into a war that was immoral and totally wrong..."
Now his anguish at never being able to walk again has turned to anger that he and thousands of others are being sent to fight an immoral war for George Bush. As America this week mourned its 2000th victim of the war, Tomas said: "I joined the Army to exact some sort of retribution on what happened to us, whether it be going to find Osama bin Laden or to get al-Qaeda. "I joined to get back for what happened. Nothing more, nothing less. But so far there have been 2,000 dead American soldiers and some 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians.
"That's certainly a lot more than we lost on September 11. What has happened in Iraq is wrong." Tomas, now confined to a wheelchair, is bitter that his Government's lies got him to enroll. And he is frustrated Mr Bush will not listen to the American public and withdraw the troops. He said: "From the start I didn't see a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but when Bush first said, 'Weapons of mass destruction', I bought into that a bit.
"However, when that reason became more and more bulls**t I started to fall off the bandwagon."It became clear they didn't have any strong connection and that's when I started to snap."
The young Army specialist is contemptuous of his President's attempts to justify the conflict. "Bush kept coming up with reason after reason that was proving to be wrong," Tomas said. "It reminded me of when I was naughty as a kid.
"Mom would find out my first excuse wasn't true, so I'd make up a second and third until I would finally admit what I'd done and take my whupping." His opposition to the war hardened soon after he was sent to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry regiment in March 2004. The soldier, of Kansas City, Missouri, recalled: "I was saying, 'See these oil fires? This is why we're here, guys. We're not defending freedom'. I realised my reasons for joining were being twisted."
The day that would alter his life forever came on April 4. He and his colleagues were sent to guard a rescue mission in Baghdad's Sadr City district. He found himself one of 25 troops crammed into a truck meant to hold 18. Tomas said: "The truck was beaten up. It was supposed to have a canvas cover and armour on the sides. It didn't have either. Space was so tight that I had my legs folded and was lying on my back so more people could get in. I was meant to have my M16 aiming off the side but I couldn't get enough room to pivot it around and shoot if I needed to."
Although the rescue mission went smoothly, his truck later came under attack from rooftop snipers armed with AK47s. Tomas said: "They opened fire and myself and three or four others got shot. It was like shooting fish in a barrel."
He was hit under the shoulder blade and the bullet severed his spinal cord, paralysing him instantly. "I went numb," he recalled. "I dropped my M16 and my fingertips were tingling. It was like a shock through my body. I went rigid. I remember looking at my hands and trying to will them to grab my M16, but couldn't get them to move. I tried to yell but all I could get out was a horse-whisper." A second shot tore into his knee. He scarcely felt it. Tomas was eventually airlifted to hospitals in Kuwait, Germany and, finally, Washington DC. He was constantly sedated and recalls little. But he remembers the emotional moment he came round and saw his mother, Cathy Smith.
"I'm a mommy's boy," he admitted. "I don't care how tough you are, when you see your mom after what I've been through you start to cry." Last Saturday, Staff Sgt George Alexander, 34, became the 2,000th US soldier killed in the conflict. He had been hit by a roadside bomb in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, five days earlier.
The death was viewed as a grim landmark by America's growing anti-war movement. Now Tomas is determined to ensure it is one of the last. He is a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War movement and recently joined leading activist Cindy Sheehan at a demo outside Mr Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Her son Casey, 24, was killed in Baghdad on the same day Tomas was hit.
Tomas and wife Brie, 24, are now trying to look to the future and are thinking of having IVF treatment to start a family. But he remains angry about the way the war changed his life. And he called on Mr Bush to stop others suffering in the same way. "I'd probably be a little bitter even if the war was just," he confessed. "But the fact that I'm in this situation, compounded with the fact we went to an immoral war, makes it harder to accept.
"Bush led us into something that was wrong. He
now needs to lead us out."