Wednesday, October 19, 2005

And Now, the Rest of the Story

I was recently reading (or rather listening to my usual audio CD) Rick Atkinson's In the Company of Soldiers and was reminded of this story regarding General David Petraeus, one of the best officers in the Army, and currently in charge of training Iraqi troops.

Perhaps the most remarkable test of his luck and physical rigor came on Sept. 21, 1991. Shortly after taking command of a battalion in the 101st, Petraeus was watching an infantry squad practice assaulting a bunker with live grenades and ammunition. Forty yards away, a rifleman tripped and fell, hard. Petraeus never saw the muzzle flash. The M-16 round struck just above the "A" in his uniform name tag on the right side of his chest, and blew through his back. Had it hit above the "A" in "U.S. Army," on the left side over his heart, he would have been dead before he hit the ground.

He staggered back and collapsed. Standing next to him was Brig. Gen. Jack Keane, the assistant division commander, who by 2003 had become the Army's four-star vice chief of staff.

"Dave, you've been shot," Keane told him. "I want you to keep talking. You know what's going on here, David. I don't want you to go into shock."

Keane later described the day for me. "He was getting weaker, you could see that. He said, 'I'm gonna be okay. I'll stay with it.' We got him to the hospital at Campbell and they jammed a chest tube in. It's excruciating. Normally a guy screams and his body comes right off the table. All Petraeus did was grunt a little bit. His body didn't even move. The surgeon told me, 'That's the toughest guy I ever had my hands on.' "

A medevac helicopter flew Petraeus, with Keane at his side, to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, 60 miles away. "It was a Saturday and I was afraid the top guys wouldn't be on duty. I had them call ahead to make sure their best thoracic surgeon was available," Keane recalled. "We got off the helicopter and there's this guy they'd called off the links, still in his golf outfit, pastel colors and everything."

And here is where it gets interesting.

It was Dr. Bill Frist, who a decade later would become majority leader of the U.S. Senate. More than five hours of surgery followed.

So in an amazing coincidence, Bill Frist, who has never served a day in the military, probably contributed more to the war in Iraq than any other senator.

And now you know... the rest of the story.