Peoria Journal Star

April 16, 2004

Bartonville-based reservist fired rifle as he fled ambush
Stung by shrapnel, driver dodged bullets as rebels swarmed convoy near Baghdad

of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Spc. Shawn Kirkpatrick recalled thinking the road outside Baghdad was eerily quiet as his 18-truck military convoy lumbered down it.

Then came the explosions and rifle fire. Three hidden roadside bombs rocked his truck, blowing out the windshield and knocking off his goggles. It cracked his glasses.

The April 9 ambush by Iraqi insurgents injured Kirkpatrick and thrust the rest of his Army Reserve unit, the Bartonville-based 724th Transportation Company, into the spotlight. One soldier was killed and two others taken captive. Seven civilians remain missing.

During a break Thursday from physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Kirkpatrick, 26, of Rantoul recounted the harrowing 20-minute ride to safety he made with his gunner, Spc. Matthew Bohm.

"Nothing got better. It only got worse," Kirkpatrick said. "It was like one of those movies. Everytime you thought, 'I'm almost there. I gotta get through this,' it got more intense."

The attack left Pfc. Greg Goodrich, 37, of Bartonville, dead.

"My heart goes out to the families," Kirkpatrick said. "I hope they realize the importance of what their loved one was doing and that their death was not in vain. They should be proud."

Kirkpatrick, who is being treated as an outpatient at Walter Reed, suffered shrapnel wounds to both legs and his right thigh. He's walking with crutches. Doctors have decided not to try to remove the shrapnel and bullet fragments in his legs, saying that it could do more damage than good.

Kirkpatrick hopes to return home to central Illinois as soon as this weekend to complete his therapy at a hospital in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Bohm, 46, was severely bruised when the truck spun briefly out of control on a roadway that was made slippery by leaking fuel tankers in the convoy. Kirkpatrick estimated that the convoy was fired on by at least 150 rebels.

"I hadn't even realized I'd been hit," Kirkpatrick said. "My leg started aching and throbbing a little bit. I reached down and I had blood all over my legs."

There wasn't much radio communication during the initial attack. But the radios came alive afterward.

"Just soldiers calling in screaming that they'd been hit," Kirkpatrick recalled.

They couldn't stop. They raced at 50 mph, swerving to avoid burning trucks and tires and other obstacles that Iraqi fighters had placed in the roadway to slow them down.

Bohm continued firing his machine gun while Kirkpatrick fired his M-249 squad assault weapon, a fully automatic rifle, as he drove.

Eventually, they reached the safety of Abrams tanks.

Kirkpatrick was evacuated with other injured soldiers to a hospital in central Baghdad and then transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. He arrived at Walter Reed early Tuesday. His father, Ed Kirkpatrick, and grandfather Ralph Kirkpatrick, both of Saybrook, flew out to join him.

"I look back on everything now and I just wonder how we made it through with as few casualties as we had," Kirkpatrick said. "As much as you try to prepare for any type of combat like this, it's something you just can't be ready for. We adapted and overcame to the best of our abilities."

Kirkpatrick, who was a delivery driver for Lowe's home improvement store before receiving orders to Iraq, joined the Army Reserve "for the discipline." Initially, he had reservations about the war with Iraq.

"It wasn't a place that I felt we needed to be," Kirkpatrick said.

But he changed his views after seeing the gratitude of the Iraqi people.

"As we got over there and I started traveling through these towns and understanding how these people lived, the way they were treated - they're so appreciative that we're here," he said.

One memory stands out - drawings on the side of a schoolhouse of the U.S. flag, the Iraqi flag, talking about the "new Iraq."

"Seeing that really touched me and made me realize there should be no person in the world that has to put up with being mistreated or killed for standing up for what they believe in," he said.