A US newspaper correspondent witnessed the devastating attack on an American base in Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday. Reprinted here are excerpts from the report by Jeremy Redmon of the Richmond Times Dispatch:
The blast cut through the giant tent
Hundreds of US soldiers had just sat down for lunch about noon when rockets launched by insurgents hit the giant dining tent.
The force of the explosions knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats. A fireball enveloped the top of the tent, and pellet-sized shrapnel sprayed into the men.
Amid the screaming and thick smoke that followed, quick-thinking soldiers turned their lunch tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot.
"Medic! Medic!" soldiers shouted. Medics rushed into the tent and hustled the rest of the wounded out on stretchers.
Scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters outside. Others wobbled around the tent and collapsed, dazed by the blast.
"I can't hear! I can't hear!" one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her.
Near the front entrance to the chow hall, troops tended a soldier with a gaping head wound. Within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag. Three more bodies were in the parking lot then.
Soldiers scrambled back into the hall to check for more wounded. The explosions blew out a huge hole in the roof of the tent. Puddles of bright red blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor.
Grim-faced soldiers growled angrily about the attack and swore as they stomped away.
Sgt Evan Byler, of the [Richmond-based] 276th [Engineer Battalion] steadied himself on one of the concrete bomb shelters.
He was eating chicken tenders and macaroni when the bomb hit. The blast knocked him out of his chair. When the smoke cleared, Byler took off his shirt and wrapped it around a seriously wounded soldier.
Byler held the bloody shirt in his hand, not quite sure what to do with it.
"It's not the first close call I have had here," said Byler, a Fauquier County, Va, resident who survived a blast from an improvised explosive device while riding in a vehicle earlier this year.
Byler started walking back to his base when he saw a soldier collapse from shock on the side of the road. Byler and 1st Lt Shawn Otto of Williamsburg, Va, also of the 276th, put the grieving soldier on a passing pickup truck.
The 276th, with about 500 troops, had made it a year without losing a soldier and is preparing to return home in about a month.
"We almost made it. We almost made it to the end without getting somebody killed," Otto said glumly.
Lt Dawn Wheeler, a member of the 276th from Centreville, Va, was waiting in line for chicken tenders when a round hit on the other side of a wall from her. A soldier who had been standing beside her was on the ground, struggling with shrapnel buried deep in his neck.
"We all have angels on us," she said as she pulled away in a Humvee.