Sunday, September 14, 2003 Welcome Home LiL Bro [KV's E-Mail]
At approximately 9:00 pm (that's 21:00 military time), Major Miner called to tell me Alpha Company's plane landed in Germany!! They expect that to be their only stop! In a few hours (hopefully) they will taxi down that runway and it'll be a straight shot (God willin' and the creek don' rise - as my mom always said) to March AFB! They do not expect to have any other layovers. The flight was delayed a little at take off time, but they expect to make up the time. It is looking right now (again, that may change) that they will arrive pretty close to the tentative schedule I've previously sent out:
10:10AM-12:00PM Flight arrives at March AFB, Inspect & load gear, load buses
12:00PM-1:30PM Drive from March AFB to Camp Pendleton, Ca
1:30PM-3:30PM Arrive at Camp Las Flores, turn in weapons, account for all gear
3:30PM-4:30PM Release Marines/Sailors to families for 96 hour liberty.
The operative word there is tentative (that means possibly or maybe or approximately). It is up to you when you would like to arrive on base. I am unable to give you an exact or even a close estimate as to the time the buses will pull into the ramp area of the 4th LAR Reserve Center. Your guess is as good as mine. You will not be able to go to the buses or spend time with your Marine immediately after the buses pull in. Once the buses pull in, they will lock the gates behind them. They must make sure all weapons are secure before releasing any Marines/Sailors. As excited as you must be to see your guy, try to remember that "rushing" the buses only delays the process so that everyone will need to wait longer to have their Marine/Sailor released for liberty.
Speaking of liberty, I'll be leaving my computer in the OFF mode during the 96 hour liberty. I've tried to answer as many potential questions in all of my updates, but have not gotten to all of the individual emails. There are many and I am few. Just letting you know because I don't want people thinking I'm ignoring them, but as I'm sure you can understand, I'll be spending time with my hero, too.
Just a stone's throw away! Try to remember all that I've mentioned about the possible chaos that might ensue tomorrow once you get there!
4th LAR A Co. KVA
Corona del Mar man, injured while serving in Iraq, is now settling into the strangeness of home
The morning of Aug. 16 dawned the same exact way it had for U.S. Marine Cpl. Bryan Bergey for the last seven months. He woke up at 4 a.m. after sleeping on sand and rubble for a couple of hours. He ate his usual breakfast of powdered eggs from a Meals Ready to Eat pack and set off in 140-degree desert heat to patrol a bridge across the Euphrates River. It was quiet except for the gurgling river below and their own happy chatter — about going back home to Corona del Mar in a week, about getting in the ocean, seeing girls and the pure joy of eating real food again. And then it happened. The explosion.
It was an ambush by Iraqi soldiers and as always, it was sudden, unexpected and bloody. Bergey, who celebrated his 23rd birthday in the Kuwaiti desert in February with fellow Marines, was struck by hot shards of metal from the powerful explosives. They hit him in his right eye, throat and forehead. The powerful impact also fractured his skull and busted his tooth. But Bergey kept going. "My face was covered in blood," he said. "People were screaming. There was blood everywhere." But the Marines had to regroup and fight back. "It was pretty intense," Bergey said. "I don't know how long it lasted. I don't remember anything." It was as if the people fighting a bloody battle on that bridge were caught in a time warp. When it all ended, the Marines took several prisoners and Bergey, one of three men seriously injured, was sent back to his camp. "They did my first surgery there," he said. "Basically, they just sewed up my eye."
ON THE MEND
He then was moved to Germany for follow-up treatment and after spending three days there, returned to the Miramar base in San Diego. He had his second surgery that involved removing pieces of explosive from his eye, forehead and throat. Bergey came home on Aug. 28. It's only been seven months, but he feels like he is a different person. "I look at a picture of me before I left," he said, feeling the patch on his right eye. "And I look at myself now. I look pretty much the same. But I'm not the guy in that picture. I'm a new person." He's not quite the quintessential soldier-philosopher, but he now has a new-found appreciation for life. "I'll never take anything for granted ever again," said Bergey, whose eye is still healing, still has pieces in and is not expected to ever again be 100%. "That's for sure."
Bergey was one of the first groups of Marines to be deployed to Iraq. He waited with his team in Kuwait, marched onward to Baghdad and beyond. After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Bergey became part of Operation Scorpion that was responsible for catching terrorists and members of Hussein's Baath Party.
"We'd patrol the streets all day and then have raids all night," he said. "We busted a whole lot of people. It was all about speed and stealth. We'd go to a house in the middle of the night and get those guys without confrontation or firefight." And that, in a nutshell, was their mission.
A STRANGE RETURN
Sleep was something that happened when there was time. A couple of hours here and there, sometimes never. "My clock was totally changed," Bergey said. "But it got normal. It wasn't a problem after a while."
What seems strange for Bergey now is so-called normal life in Corona del Mar. "It always feels like I'm forgetting something. When I walk into my room and walk out, I look around and wonder." His mother, Pam Bergey, says she is concerned about her son's "healing process." "I know it's going to be slow," she said. "We have to take things slow. We wanted to give him a big welcome back party. But we called it off because we didn't want to do too much too soon." She knows how lucky she is to have her first-born sitting in her living room couch. "He's fortunate to be alive," she said. "I'm relieved. I'm proud."
The future, for Bergey, is more of a puzzle than the many strategic moves he has made in war over the months. "I don't know," he said. "I'm just taking a break. I'll figure it out later." All he has known since he graduated from high school was the Marine Corps. "It becomes your family," he said. "The people you're with -- they become your brothers. Some of them are friends for life." It's hard for Bergey to explain it in words. "You'd do anything for each other," he said. "Just anything." Bergey will be awarded the Purple Heart later this month. But he may not necessarily have a future in the Marines. "I've injured my shooting eye," he said. "But I'm a soldier. And I'll always be a soldier. I could never be an office boy." For now, he's just going to enjoy the simple things life has to offer. Like, eating Mexican food. Sleeping on a bed. Dating. Hanging out with friends. Watching television. "I've seen a lot," he said. "Good and bad. But I don't have any nightmares. I'm glad I did what I did. I hope the people of Iraq have a better future because we did. And that's all that matters."