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Friday, March 28

Soldiers work to free private trapped in burning tank

By Sean D. Naylor | Army Times

CENTRAL IRAQ - A sandstorm suffused the air with an unearthly red glow as the column of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles moved toward a bridge the U.S. troops planned to capture.

Two miles from the bridge, incoming tracer rounds signaled the start of yet another Iraqi ambush. The U.S. Army soldiers with ``Bonecrusher'' Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, shrugged it off. They were accustomed to being shot at.

But this Tuesday evening ambush brought the unexpected. Projectiles - probably rocket-propelled grenades - slammed into the back of two tanks about 35 yards apart.

``We're getting hit! We're getting hit!'' yelled Staff Sgt. Charles Kilgore, commanding one of the tanks.

Three crew members from Kilgore's tank and all the men inside the other tank, commanded by Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Anderson, 38, of Sacramento, Calif., scrambled to safety. But one man was trapped.

Tank driver Pfc. Adam Small, 19, of Greensboro, N.C., tried to push his hatch up to escape, but it was jammed. So was the turret behind him.

As he struggled to free himself, the tank's 120 mm ammunition began exploding in the flames.

Half a mile away, the crew of a tank commanded by Sgt. 1st Class Javier Camacho saw the flames and rushed forward to help.

The three soldiers from Kilgore's tank yelled to Camacho that Small was still inside.

``My heart stopped,'' said Camacho, 35, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. ``He's not one of my soldiers, but I could just imagine burning to death in a tank. I wouldn't leave nobody like that.''

With Iraqis continuing to fire on the U.S. troops, Camacho and two other soldiers - Sgt. Jeremiah Gallegos, and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Newby - doused the propellant burning on top of the tank and forced open the hatch, freeing Small.

``When he came out of the tank he was hyperventilating,'' said Camacho, the squadron's master gunner and a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. ``I didn't think about being afraid. I just wanted to get that kid out.''

The column ultimately decided that capturing the bridge could wait. As the squadron pulled away, another rocket-propelled grenade bounced off the road in front of Camacho's tank.

``All you could hear was the sound of bullets going by,'' Camacho said. ``It was an exciting night.''

The two tanks - the first Abrams tanks ever destroyed by enemy fire - were total losses.