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US Army veteran recalls night 101st Airborne Division was ambushed by one of its own before Iraq invasion - Joggingvideo.com
19.5 C
New York
Thursday, June 13, 2024

US Army veteran recalls night 101st Airborne Division was ambushed by one of its own before Iraq invasion

Three days after the official start of the Iraq War, a grenade was tossed into a soldier’s tent in the dead of night and another was shot. 

The U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division was under attack, but they could not find any insurgents. 

A survivor – retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart Womack – described the confusion, chaos and carnage inside Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait before they realized one of their own ultimately killed two soldiers and severely wounded 14 others in a surprise attack on March 23, 2003.

Two decades after that shocking ambush, Womack told Fox News Digital how he continues to “live it every day” and how telling the story “continues to be therapy for me.”

THE PAINFUL DEBATE OVER IRAQ, WHICH BECAME A BLOODY QUAGMIRE, 20 YEARS LATER

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait.

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait. (Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack)

‘Not quite right’

“Just after midnight, an incendiary grenade rolled into the tent,” Womack told Fox News Digital. “I was sitting at the end of the table, so I can see the sparks as it was beginning to ignite. 

“I knew we were in the land of not quite right, and that was a not quite right grenade that for some reason, there were sparks before it exploded.”

He and Maj. Ken Romaine saw the grenade and rushed to wake Col. Ben Hodges (now retired with the rank of Lieutenant General), who was asleep in the back of the tent. 

“Just like that, it was pitch dark, and the tent was filled with smoke,” Womack said. “I shook the commander vigorously until he woke up, and I was shouting, ‘Get up. We’re under attack.’

“He was groggy, but he got to his feet, put his boots on, and I told him we were going to run out of the tent on the count of three.”

I LOST MY BROTHER AND MY FIANCÉ IN THE IRAQ WAR. 20 YEARS LATER, HERE’S HOW I HOPE AMERICANS WILL HONOR THEM

Womack ran out of the tent but lost track of Hodges. He said he called him in “hushed tones,” but there were no answers. 

A fragmentary grenade exploded, which knocked the commander back into the tent. During his sprint out of the tent, Womack said he heard someone in the vestibule area. 

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait.

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait. (Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack)

It was Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, who was one of the two fatalities. The other was Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, who died from 83 shrapnel wounds.

“I heard a gunshot … and then I heard a moan after the gunshot and knew immediately that it was him,” Womack said. “I drew my pistol and cocked it out of habit, but there was no ammunition.”

THE IRAQ WAR 20 YEARS LATER: DELTA FORCE OPERATORS RECALL HUNTING SADDAM HUSSEIN

Womack was defenseless, alone and surrounded by the darkness of night with an unknown enemy hunting U.S. military members.

No one knew at the time that the killer was U.S. Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who shut the generator that lit the camp and tossed grenades into several tents. 

Pictures after March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait.

Pictures after March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait. (Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack)

Womack finally made it to an area where there was ammunition and grabbed an M4 rifle and night vision equipment.

He said he positioned guards by the weapons and ammunition, established a password so “naturally itchy fingers” would not get him killed if he needed to re-enter the tent.

ARMY: U.S. SOLDIER ACTED OUT OF RESENTMENT IN GRENADE ATTACK

Crouching in a ready-to-fire position, Womack made it back to his tent to look for his comrades. 

“The NODs (night observation device) were a piece of crap, and I couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “I made it to the tent, walked inside the vestibule and whispered low tones their names. There was no answer. It was eerie, dark and very quiet.”

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait.

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait. (Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack)

There was still no sign of the enemy either, he said. 

He and fellow officers split up responsibilities. He searched for the attacker while a sergeant searched for two missing soldiers. 

Casualties were piling up. Medical stations were set up to tend to the wounded. 

DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN MAKES UNANNOUNCED VISIT TO IRAQ

Womack said he was still “hyper focused” on finding the attacker or attackers. His first suspicion was interpreters, who arrived the day before. 

They were apprehended at gunpoint, interrogated and found to have had nothing to do with the ambush, Womack said.

SOLDIER DIES NEARLY 20 YEARS AFTER SUFFERING SEVERE INJURY IN IRAQ, LAID TO REST WITH FULL MILITARY HONORS

Essentially, they did a roll call where they discovered Akbar was missing, and so were grenades and ammunition.

“This still takes several minutes to digest that one of our own committed this horrific attack,” Womack said. 

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait.

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait. (Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack)

“That was the easy part. The hard part is, how do we tell the other 4,000 people on the camp that we are looking for one of our own, who’s wearing the same uniform as we are.”

Maj. Kyle Warren, the brigade intelligence officer, realized there was a bunker that went unchecked all night, Womack said. 

IRANIAN-BACKED MILITIA LAUNCHES ROCKETS AT TURKISH BASE IN NORTHERN IRAQ

“Warren had the wherewithal to holster his pistol as he approached the bunker and slyly, took Akbar down,” Womack said.

“Akbar had no idea that we were looking for him. I’ve always said that there is something that turns a person on to do an attack like this and then there’s something that turns them off. He is now on off mode.”

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait.

Pictures from the night of March 23, 2003, when Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar ambushed other U.S. military members, killing two and wounding 14 in Kuwait. (Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bart E. Womack)

Akbar was arrested and read his rights.

“Three of the tents were a bloody mess,” Womack said. “Had I not been awake watching Tiger Woods play golf, I would surely be dead. God wanted me here to tell the story. 

SADDAM CAPTURED ‘LIKE A RAT’ IN RAID

“(Maj.) Romaine made jokes about a wooden wall locker in my sleep area. That wall locker took the brunt of the grenade blast shielding Romaine and Hodges from massive shrapnel. Years later Romaine was quick to point out how bad things would’ve been for him had it not been for that wall locker.”

Guilty soldier

Akbar was found guilty of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder in April 2005 and sentenced to death. 

He apologized in a barely audible, brief statement before jury deliberations over his death sentence.

“I want to apologize for the attack that occurred. I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options. I also want to ask you for forgiveness,” Akbar told the 15-person military jury.

SENATE ADVANCES BILL TO REPEAL DECADES-OLD IRAQ WAR AUTHORIZATIONS

Akbar remains on death row at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C.,-based organization that provides “analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.”

The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (REUTERS/U.S. military barracks public affairs department/Handout)

Officials at the Pentagon and Akbar’s lawyers could not be reached for comment. 

During his trial, Akbar’s defense team argued he suffered from years of mental issues. His lawyers argued that he suffered from psychiatric problems, including paranoia, irrational behavior, insomnia and other sleep disorders. 

They said Akbar had a psychological breakdown after struggling with the idea of fighting other Muslims and took it out on his fellow soldiers.

A major piece of evidence during the trial was Akbar’s diary, which prosecutors said detailed his conversion to religious extremism and included expressed anti-government and anti-American views. 

The sentencing has been upheld during the appeals process, most recently by the United States Supreme Court in 2016.

He is one of four former soldiers on death row.

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Over the last 20 years, Womack said it was God’s plan that he survived so that he can tell the world what happened during the overnight hours of March 22-23, 2003.

“God chose me in this ministry to enlighten the world that if it happened inside the close-knit brotherhood of the Armed Forces, then it could happen to any organization, campus or community at any time and anywhere,” said Womack, who detailed the events of that night in his book, “Embedded Enemy: The Insider Threat.”

“Writing this story saved me,” Womack said. “It enabled me to get the story out of my head. Frankly, I remain engulfed in it, so I live it every day. It continues to be therapy for me.”

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