By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) Public Affairs
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — The truck has clearly been in Iraq for awhile. The hood is a dusty green against the sand-colored cab and trailer attachment, and the undercarriage shows some hard miles. But the engine purrs like a kitten, and the two Soldiers standing under its massive grille wear broad smiles and Army Commendation Medals.
The truck, a heavy equipment transport truck or HETT, is used by Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) to recover vehicles in combat areas, usually after they are damaged by improvised explosive devices. But on Jan. 31, this particular truck hit an IED. Shrapnel fragments damaged the engine, the fuel tanks and the transmission – along with almost everything else that made the truck run – and also tore through a Soldier’s arm.
Spc. David Shulda, a native of Crestville, Ill., and a mechanic with the 2nd BSTB, was sitting in the passenger’s seat when the IED exploded under the truck. He was bleeding heavily from his arm, and as soon as driver Spc. Shawn Meinholz brought the vehicle to a stop, fellow mechanic Spc. Steven Bodruk began treating Shulda, putting a tourniquet on his arm.
“I barely kept the truck out of a canal,” Meinholz, a native of Manchester, N.H., said. “I lost control of the steering and the brakes.”
A recovery team from Forward Operating Base Yusufiyah came out to bring the Soldiers to safety; Shulda was taken to a hospital immediately.
The truck was totaled, the Soldiers said.
“At that point, we thought it was too damaged to fix,” said Meinholz. “In fact, it was totaled. But we opted to fix it.”
For their engagement by hostile forces, Bodruk and Meinholz were awarded Combat Action Badges. The Army Commendation Medals were presented for the fact that the Soldiers saved a comrade’s life and then brought the truck back to fully-mission-capable status.
“They’re the hardest working guys we have,” said motor pool administrative specialist Sgt. Lucian Ledbetter, a native of Conway, Ark. “I knew they would get it done.”
Ledbetter himself had a hand in the repairs, ordering more than 100 pieces and parts that the mechanics needed, including the new engine, winches and fuel tanks.
“It’s simply outstanding, what they did,” said Capt. Jason Anderson, a native of Crete, Ill., and the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd BSTB. “It was way above their official skill level. They put hundreds of man-hours into this truck.”
Some Soldiers thought that Bodruk and Meinholz wouldn’t be able to restore the truck.
“People in other units said they couldn’t do it,” said Ledbetter. “They said the HETT should just be coded out and a new one requisitioned. But inside the unit, everyone had full confidence in these guys. Everyone messed with them about it, but no one ever really thought they couldn’t get it done.”
For Bodruk and Meinholz, it was never a question.
“The battalion wouldn’t have any recovery assets if we didn’t fix it,” said Bodruk. “We do 75 percent of our missions with that truck.”
But it wasn’t just for the battalion’s mission that they poured their efforts into the truck.
“Shulda would’ve wanted it done,” Meinholz said. “If he were here, (the damage) wouldn’t have stopped him.”
Shulda, who was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, does physical therapy as his arm is healing, and regularly e-mails his friends in the battalion, letting them know he’s regaining strength in his hand and arm. But he doesn’t yet know that the truck he was in that night is back on the road now.
“Even though this truck is together again, we still don’t have a Shulda,” Bodruk said. “And not just as a co-worker, but as a friend.”
“They did it because they were the ones in that truck that night,” Ledbetter said. “It’s more than a truck, to them – it’s a symbol of their survival.”