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Injured Coker Creek soldier home on leave from Iraq

By: staff reports
Source: The Monroe County Advocate

Private First Class Brian McJunkin of Coker Creek (Tennessee) returned home from Iraq for a 15-day leave on Friday, Sept. 26. He was one of the first 200 soldiers to return home for rest and relaxation in the largest home leave program since Vietnam.

McJunkin arrived at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport around 6 a.m. Friday. He and Spc. John Perkins visited Spc. Aaron Blakely at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while in Washington, D. C. McJunkin and Perkins both received minor injuries during a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attack in Kirkuk on June 28. Blakely lost both legs as a result of the attack.

“I don’t know who got the better end of the deal,” said Blakely. “Me, because I’m back in the states for good or you guys, because you didn’t get your legs blown off.”

McJunkin and Perkins gave Blakely a flag as a get well present from the rest of the members of the mortar platoon of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy. They also gave him a couple of magazines bought earlier that morning at a convenience store.

McJunkin, however, had a more personal gift for Blakely. He had saved a piece of the RPG that took his friend’s legs. McJunkin had ridden with Blakely in the ambulance that night. He had held Blakely’s hand and told him the truth about his legs. McJunkin gave Blakely the shrapnel.

Blakely put on his new prosthetic legs, grabbed a cane and headed to the limo with the other guys for a ride to the White House. He joked that his new legs had added an inch to his height; he’d lost 20 pounds and had stopped smoking.

They took a group picture in front of the White House, where other visitors thanked them for their service and even asked to have their pictures made with them.

“Hello America!” shouted Perkins from the Washington Monument, “I love you!”

Passers-by honked their horns in patriotic support. McJunkin still has chunks of shrapnel lodged in his arm, chest, face and side. Perkins has some in his right side. The soldiers’ Headquarters Company lives in the mansion that once belonged to Al Hassan al- Majid, also known as Chemical Ali. When the RPG hit their second story window at 3 a.m., their lives were changed forever.

Blakely said he didn’t remember being hit or feeling any pain. He said he thought he had a concussion as he rolled off the sofa and felt around for his M-16 rifle.

McJunkin said he woke up and looked out the window and it was all smoke. He said he crawled over and got his weapon and asked what happened. Someone told him they had just been attacked.

In an interview with WBIR, McJunkin said, “We turned the bathroom light on and they kept pointing at me. I looked and said ‘No that’s not me.’ Then I saw all the holes in my shirt.”

After receiving medical treatment, McJunkin was allowed to speak to his mother on the phone for 10 minutes. McJunkin’s mother said he told her that if she cried he would hang up. He also said he still had a job to do. McJunkin returned to active duty on June 30.

McJunkin left Coker Creek for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. on July 12, 2002. He is trained as a mortar man, a machine gun specialist, and has had some sniper training. He is enlisted for four years and will spend two years in Italy.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade dropped from the skies over Northern Iraq under the cover of darkness on March 26, 2003. More than 1,000 paratroopers seized the Harir airfield, about 40 miles from the border of then Iraqi-controlled territory. They have since been used to secure oil fields and airfields in Mosul, Tikrit and Kirkuk, and have been teamed with U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish Forces.

Advocate & Democrat Staff Writer Melissa Kinton and Spc. Lorie Jewell of Operation Tribute to Freedom contributed to this report. Melissa Kinton may be reached at mcanews7@xtn.net or 337- 7101.

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