By the time Daren Taylor reached Iraq during “Operation Enduring Freedom” at Christmas time 2005, he had served more than three years in the Army as a combat medic. He was a sergeant attached to the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division.
“I went to Iraq in 2006 at the start of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’ the 36-year old former medic explained. “This was the period where we were trying to turn Iraq into a democracy and teach the people about voting. I returned from Iraq in 2007 just after Saddam Hussein was hanged.
“We flew from the states to Kuwait on civilian airlines. Kuwait was a county that liked Americans. They had Mc Donald’s and KFC just like home. Then we took an Army C-130 transport plane from Kuwait to Baghdad. It was like going to another world when we stepped off the plane in Baghdad.
“We landed there just after Christmas in 2006. We expected to be there a year but we were deployed in Iraq for 18 months.
“When I started over there I was a combat medic for Charley Company. We worked out of a big house in the middle of Baghdad we took over as our base of operations,” he said. “We would go out on missions from our house dubbed ‘Casino.’ Sometimes we had two or three missions a day.”
“What do you recall about using your skills as a combat medic?” Taylor was asked.
“I set up a little medic room in our outpost so I could work on injured soldiers. At the time we were working with soldiers from the Iraqi Army,” he said. “Several Iraqi soldiers rushed into our outpost with a badly wounded soldier.
“I examined him and realized he was pretty far gone. His veins were all black and they had collapsed. The only veins I could use to insert an IV was in both of his ankles. Even with two IVs flowing into him going in both ankles he was having trouble breathing.
“I tried a needle chest decompression. We inserted a needle between his ribs. If air comes out it would allow his lungs to expand and he would be able to breath better. It didn’t work.
“That meant he had fluid in his chest cavity. The only way to fix that was to put a chest tube in him. This had never been attempted in the field in Iraq. It was always done at a hospital.
“I had a chest tube with me, but I didn’t have a scaple. I had to use a pocket knife. I opened him up with the knife and inserted the tube into his chest. Blood and fluid poured out. A short time later he regained consciousness.
“It was a hallelujah moment for us,” Taylor recalled a decade later. “We fixed the chest tube so it wouldn’t fall out and his fellow soldiers transported him from our makeshift field clinic by Humvee to the nearest hospital.
“The soldier came back to our unit a couple months later and thanked us for saving his life. My commander put me in for a bronze star for the job I did saving the Iraqi soldier, but I never received the award,” he said.
“I didn’t get the medal, but I did get this bronze coin from Maj. Gen. Cline, the commanding officer of our division, for doing my job well as a combat medic. Around the edge of the coin it reads: “For Excellence in Iraq.”
“I went on another mission with our 1st Cavalry troop I’ll never forget. One of our drones spotted an Iraqi firing an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) at one of our Humvees. After he fired the round the drone followed the shooter to his house and relayed the coordinates of the house to us.
“Our mission was to capture the man who fired the RPG. We surrounded the house with soldiers and kicked in the door. We tore the house apart looking for RPGs but found none. But we had a testing kit with us which allowed us to check the hands of each man in the house. If his hands turned black we knew he had explosive powder on them from firing an RPG. We discovered two of the men in the house had powder on their hands and took them into custody.
“It was during this mission I was involved in an incident on the roof I can never forget,” Taylor said. “When I got up on the roof there was a three-foot tall concrete wall around the parameter of the house and cots butted up to the wall that snipers could lie on and shoot down on anyone while hiding behind the wall.
“There was a guy lying on one of the cots. I told him to get up, but he didn’t move. I was standing there in my body armor holding an M-16 rifle. He looked up at me and acted frightened. He told me to hold it for a second as a reached under a pillow for something.
“I told him to stop reaching for whatever was under the pillow, but he wouldn’t. I didn’t know if he was going to pull out a weapon from under the pillow or what,” Taylor said. “I had no choice but to shoot him. I killed him.
“When my lieutenant got up to the roof we looked under the dead man’s pillow. He was reaching for a cell phone. I hate that I killed a man who was reaching for a cell phone. I have spent years dealing with the guilt of his death.
“I came home from Iraq suffering from PTSD, (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome),” he said. “I spent years in treatment.”
The other thing that happened to Sgt. Taylor while he was on the mission to locate the Iraqis who fired the RPG, he badly damaged his left shoulder. He told no one and suffered with a dislocated shoulder during the last few months of his deployment.
Just before his unit left the country Saddam Hussein was caught. The hard-line ruler of Iraq was discovered in a hole in the ground outside Baghdad. The former leader was turned over to the Iraqi government, tried, convicted and hung.
“It was during the execution part of the process we were back at the forward operating base and got to witness his execution,” Taylor said. “They projected the execution on the wall of our Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent. They had him on the gallows, put a sack over his head and hung him.
“For us at that moment it was a big deal. The guys in our unit started screaming and yelling as soon as he was hung. Then our unit and all the rest of the Americans in Iraq were put on standby because no one knew what was going to happen after the hanging.”
Nothing happened and Taylor and the rest of the American units in the country stood down.
“This was toward the last three months of our deployment over there. I couldn’t hide my injuries any more. I was pretty badly injured and wound up in the forward operating base hospital. “
After 18 months deployment Taylor and his unit came home. It was a surreal journey home.
“When we got back to Kuwait we took an Air France jet to Ireland and from there we flew into Dallas. We stepped aboard this air-conditioned jet filled with attractive stewardess walking up and down the aisles telling us we could eat and drink whatever we wanted. When we were in Iraq we weren’t allowed to drink alcohol.
“When we arrived at the Dallas terminal it was an emotional time. We got off the plane and fire trucks were spraying their hoses into the air and American flags were flying. When we reached the terminal there were scores of people waiting for us with signs supporting our return from Iraq.
“That was the moment reality set in. I had made it back from Iraq. I had made it home in one piece,” Taylor said. “We flew from Dallas to Fort Bragg, S.C. and had another welcome home there. This is where we were met by our families.
“At the time I was married and had a young son and I was expecting a daughter momentarily. It was early December 2007 and my daughter was born a week after I arrived home back at Fort Bliss, Texas.
A short while later, Taylor had to be operated on for his damaged left shoulder.
“It was a pretty hectic operation and I was laid up for a while,” he recalled. “While recovering I found a note on the table at home left by my wife. She wrote that she couldn’t handle married life any more and was leaving with the kids and going to live with her mother in Orlando.
“I was going through this PTSD thing trying to recover from my deployment to Iraq. “My wife said when I returned from over there I was a different man than when I left. She filed for divorce.
“Because of my injuries my military career was over. I was discharged from the Army,” he said.
About the same time he and his wife divorced and Taylor ended up with custody of Joey and Katy who are 12 and eight. The trio lives in North Port.
Name: Daren Craig Taylor
D.O.B: 17 Jan. 1983
Hometown: Twin Falls, Idaho
Currently: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: 15 Jan. 2003
Discharged: 10 Oct. 2007
Unit: Charlie Company, 12th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
Commendations: Army Commendation Meal (4 Awards), National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Service Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal (2 Awards).
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 4, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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