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Thursday, April 3

Captured mechanics weren't lost, congressman says

By Sergio Bustos | GNS

WASHINGTON - Soldiers with the 507th Maintenance Company did not take a wrong turn in the early morning hours of March 23 when Iraqi soldiers ambushed them near Nasiriyah, a congressman who talked with two sergeants in the trapped vehicles said Thursday.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who spoke with the two sergeants at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, said they told him they were ambushed on a bridge as they attempted to catch up to the huge convoy of tanks and troops moving north to Baghdad. The company had fallen behind because they had to repair several stalled vehicles.

The two sergeants, Staff Sgts. Tarik Jackson of Miami and Curtis P. Campbell of El Paso, Texas, came under heavy gunfire as the unit crossed the bridge, Reyes said.

They were among at least 19 soldiers from the Fort Bliss, Texas-based unit ambushed near Nasiriyah. Two soldiers were killed, five were taken prisoner and shown on international television, and seven remain missing. Jessica Lynch, a supply clerk in the maintenance company, was rescued by U.S. special forces Wednesday. Four others were wounded.

Nine Marines who attempted to rescue the 507th members the same day were killed.

The attack by Iraqi soldiers took place in the early morning hours, according to the two sergeants. They said they immediately grabbed M-16s, leaped off their vehicles and jumped into a ditch beneath the bridge as a hail of gunfire littered the air. They dragged several other soldiers, including Cpl. Damien Luten who was shot in the leg, into the ditch.

They said they formed a perimeter around the bridge, firing back at the Iraqi soldiers for about an hour, long enough for nearby Marines to join them in the gunfight and drive away the Iraqis.

``The unit had gotten separated from the larger convoy going through Nasiriyah and were merely trying to rejoin the rest of the troops when they got ambushed,'' said Reyes, who represents the border city of El Paso. ``They didn't make any kind of wrong turn.''

Pentagon officials have not disclosed the circumstances surrounding the March 23 incident.

Reyes said Jackson was suffering from gunshot wounds to the right shoulder, hip and right leg while Campbell had a gunshot wound to the thigh.

``They were in tremendous spirits,'' Reyes said. ``These men are real heroes.''