19 May 2006

"I'd Follow Him Anywhere... "

JALALABAD AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Cpl. Emilio Diaz Jr., a 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment machine gunner with Weapons Company, Combined Anti-Armor Team 1 (CAAT 1), stands in front of a Humvee before embarking on a mission. Photo by Marine Sgt. Joe Lindsay, Task Force Lava public affairs.

Lava Marine wounded in Iraq returns to combat in Afghanistan

It’s been more than one year since Marine Cpl. Emilio Diaz Jr., a 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment machine gunner with Weapons Company, Combined Anti-Armor Team One, was riding in a humvee that hit an improvised explosive device outside of Fallujah, Iraq. Although violently rocked, Diaz somehow remained in his turret position atop the vehicle, where he was manning a .50 caliber machine gun.

When he woke up after the explosion, he was still atop the humvee, still in the seated position, being held up only by his gunner’s strap. He wasn’t sure how much time had gone by. Marines were running around on the road below him yelling, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying over the ringing — a constant ringing.

The humvee he was riding in just a few minutes before had been transformed into a heap of twisted metal. The .50 caliber gun he had been manning was in pieces. He thought, perhaps, he was dead — that his buddies were dead.
( ... )
“I was scared I’d never hear again – and also scared I’d get medically discharged from the Marine Corps,” said Diaz, from Brownsville, Texas. “I didn’t want that. I wanted to be back with the guys. I wanted to hear again. Most of all I wanted the ringing to stop. I hadn’t learned to block it out at that time.”

After successful surgery back in Hawaii, Diaz regained full hearing in his right ear, and most of the hearing in his left ear.
( ... )
“Sometimes the guys will start yelling or talking around me, except that they are only just moving their lips and mouthing the words, not actually speaking,” said Diaz, suppressing a chuckle, but unable to hide a growing smile. “A couple of times I’ve had to do a double-take, thinking my ears were messing with me again. That’s just Marines being Marines. I love ‘em for it.”
( ... )
“We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t respect him,” said Ericson, from Larkspur, Colo. “I served in Iraq with Corporal Diaz and I’d follow him anywhere. It’s just our way of showing him that we care about him, that we’re glad he’s still here with us, and that he’s once again leading us in a combat zone.”

For his part, Diaz said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but in Afghanistan right now.

“These people need our support,” said Diaz. “When we’re out on patrol, the locals wave at us and throw us the Hawaiian shaka hand sign as a gesture of goodwill. I guess it’s something they picked up from 3/3 or 2/3, but they seem to know that we are from Hawaii. It’s pretty cool. What isn’t cool is that there are enemies here that will kill and terrorize people for being friendly with us.”

But Diaz said he and his fellow Marines are convinced the enemy will be defeated.

“The Afghan people are our friends,” said Diaz. “It’s just that there are pockets of insurgents here, who want to keep the people enslaved both mentally and physically through terror. That is the problem here. We’re gonna fix that problem.”

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