- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

“I believe I just had to do what I had to do,” Capt. Walter Bryan Jackson said about the 2006 firefight in Iraq that earned him the Army’s second-highest award.

On Nov. 2, 2007, Capt. Jackson became the seventh soldier since the Vietnam War to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.

He spent months recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at his parents’ home in Fairfax; he then received his recognition with modesty.

He was injured during the early days of the “awakening,” when Iraq’s Sunni Muslims joined the U.S. effort against al Qaeda. His unit was operating in Anbar province - a former insurgent stronghold.

On Sept. 27, 2006, a routine day turned extraordinary within a matter of minutes.

Insurgent forces launched a haphazard mortar attack against an American combat outpost. In response, Capt. Eric Stainbrook and the soldiers of Company A, Task Force 1-36 IN, were dispatched. Capt. Jackson, then a young second lieutenant only a year out of West Point, accompanied the team on the mission.

The soldiers took the insurgents into custody and prepared to return to base when they noticed that one of their Humvees had become stuck in the mud. Capt. Stainbrook, Capt. Jackson and some of the troops set up a defensive perimeter while other soldiers worked to free the vehicle.

Suddenly, fire erupted from a hidden enemy position. Capt. Stainbrook and 1st Sgt. David Sapp were hit.

“My first reaction was to take cover,” Capt. Jackson said. “From there, everything happened very quickly and became a blur.”

Perhaps it was instinct, training or both: Capt. Jackson ran across the road through enemy fire to give aid to Sgt. Sapp by bandaging his wounds. At the same time, Capt. Jackson grabbed his weapon and returned fire. Bullets ripped through Capt. Jackson’s hand and thigh. He fell unconscious.

When he revived, Capt. Jackson began to fire again until he had expended the rounds in his magazine. Because of injury to his hand and the loss of blood, he could not reload his weapon. He turned his attention to Sgt. Sapp and tried to stanch the bleeding.

Meanwhile, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Newlin directed fire from a nearby vehicle and ordered the soldiers to assist Capt. Jackson in evacuating their wound ed comrades. Sgt. Newlin also tried to help Capt. Jackson evacuate Sgt. Sapp.

“At that point, nobody knew that I was injured,” Capt. Jackson said. “I knew I was hurt, but I also knew I still had to help evacuate 1st Sgt. Sapp.”

Despite his wounds, Capt. Jackson helped carry the first sergeant; they were under fire as they made their way to the Bradley vehicle more than 30 feet away. Capt. Jackson helped lay down the wounded sergeant and grabbed his hand to comfort him as they departed to the field hospital.

A medic immediately began working on the sergeant. Meanwhile, Capt. Jackson could no longer feel his leg. “He looked over at me and noticed I was injured,” Capt. Jackson said, “but I told him not to worry about it and to stabilize 1st Sgt. Sapp.”

Only after his comrades received care and arrived at the field hospital did Capt. Jackson allow himself to be treated. He drifted in and out of consciousness. When the Task Force commander, Lt. Col. Thomas C. Graves, visited him in the hospital soon after, Capt. Jackson’s first words were concern for his fellow soldiers. His selfless deeds resulted in saving the first sergeant’s life.

After his recovery, Capt. Jackson remained on active duty, was deployed to South Korea and was promoted to his current rank.

“I think many soldiers would have done the same thing,” Capt. Jackson said of his actions in Iraq.

c Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center, a foundation in Arlington dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of U.S. military members.

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