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William Sterbinksy, Deployed September 2006 - June 2006, Al Anbar Province, Iraq

00:00 / 04:30

“On my 21st birthday, September 5, 2006, I was boots down in Iraq. [and] That entire northern area there, all that desert up near the Syrian border, majority of that was our responsibility. Well, at the time, we were receiving a lot of intel that a lot of munitions were moving down the Euphrates River. So, the Euphrates River was flowing from west to east. [and] Then when it got towards the middle of Iraq, it kind of took a southern turn and went down into Baghdad and some of the other towns. So, our job was to do what we coined, being Marines, our own island-hopping campaign in the Euphrates River. [and] The idea was, the command wanted to do it with HELO’s at first. So, they wanted to do a CH-53 Sea Stallion; big ole’ helicopters that would carry I'd say, probably around 10 to 15, give or take Marines on each side. So, you could fit two solid squads in there. [and] You would run with two HELO’s. So, the first HELO would touchdown, the Marines would unload, while the second HELO provided security up in the air. [and] Then they would flop and then we all and after the HELO’s were done, they would, I don't know, go park somewhere, provide security and the Marines would sweep the island. [and] Once we got to the other end of the island, HELO’s would come pick us up and take us to another one, and so on and so forth. until the day was done, or the mission was complete.Well, the day before the mission, they came and picked us up at BP Tinian. [and] We just did touch and goes all day. All day long we just practice up and down, up and down. [and] Then the day was coming to a close and on the last one, they went back to drop us off at our BP. [and] We were going to do one last exercise there and then go inside, clean up, get ready for the pickup tomorrow and do the mission. Well, the first HELO came in. I was in the second HELO. The first HELO came in and landed and you can see that they pop smoke he landed they kicked up a bunch of dust. [and] for some godforsaken reason, our pilot decided that where he wanted to set down was in that dust cloud. He had all this desert that had no dust cloud, but he chose that one. [and] As he was coming in, he came in too hard and he had a hard landing and he bounced the HELO off of the ground, split the tail right off of it. [and] All of us were jumbled up inside like a big old bag of popcorn. Now, we got jumbled up and we didn't have our safety harnesses on because like good, zealous Marines, we were practicing all day that when you're coming in, you want to have your butts on the edge of the seat because as soon as that thing touches, you're off, you're running. So, we all were unstrapped. We all did not have our harnesses on or seat belts, whatever you want to call them. So as soon as that HELO hit the ground, it flipped us upside down. [and] That's when the last thing I remember was flipping upside down and laughing, and then I was out. Now, the next time I woke up, I was strapped to like a stretcher, my legs were tied, my arms and hands were tied, my chest was tied down. [and] My vision came to me first and then kind of the hearing caught up. So, it was muffled. [and] Then it just kind of boom and like a snap all hit at once. [and] There was a Corpsman that had put his hand on me and he was like, “Relax, relax. We're taking you to Al Assad”. [and] I had asked him, “Where am I?”, and he goes, “You were in a helicopter crash. We're taking you to Al Assad”. [and] I said, “Okay, I get that. But, where am I?” He goes, “You're in another helicopter. We're taking you to Al Assad”. [and] I was like, “I was in a helicopter crash and you just put me back in another helicopter?” [and] At the same time I could feel my body starting to freak. I remember a hand reached down and it was Lance Corporal Reyes, and he had the best sense of humor. He was the greatest one of the greatest guys I ever met. [and] He was from Texas and he had the strongest southern accent. [and] He reached down and he grabbed my hand. [and] All he said was something along the lines of “Corporal Ski it's Reyes. I don't like being here either. I'm scared too. Just hold my hand, close your eyes and let's just think of something different”. [and] It was really simple, but it spoke volumes. [and] I held his hand, we closed our eyes and we made it to Al Assad.”