By Sgt. Patrick Lair
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, IRAQ— For one U.S. Army unit serving in Iraq, getting injured does not necessarily mean going home.
More than 20 percent of the Soldiers in Bravo Troop, 5-73rd Cavalry Task Force, 82nd Airborne Division, have earned Purple Hearts since beginning their deployment in July of 2006, according to Multi-National Forces-I staff. Several of those Soldiers have fought off serious injuries in order to return to duty.
"Staying motivated, for us, is presenting our paratroopers with a new target," said Capt. Stephen Dobbins, of Columbia, S.C. "To these guys, this isn't a troop deployment. It's a war."
Since entering the country last year, the airborne reconnaissance squadron has seen heavy fighting across northern Iraq, killing an estimated 500 enemy insurgents, detaining many others and uncovering many large weapons caches.
Sgt. 1st Class William Lillie, of Worcester, Mass., was injured several months ago when his vehicle drove over an anti-tank mine. Lillie was flown to Qatar for emergency medical operations but returned to duty in less than 30 days.
"He just refused to leave theater," said Bravo Troop 1st Sgt. Timothy Metheny, of Cape Girardeau, Mo. "He literally fought with his doctors in order to stay."
Lillie, currently serving on his second deployment to the Middle East, said he wants to stay with his unit because he wants to defeat the insurgents.
"You think about some of our fallen brothers, even just the ones in our platoon alone, and you keep the fight going in their memory," he said. "I think that's the biggest motivator for this troop."
Spc. Robert Cain of Las Vegas, Nev., was recently injured when the vehicle he occupied was struck by another vehicle carrying heavy explosives in the middle of a firefight.
Cain's vehicle was blocking an intersection as he laid down fire with a MK-19 automatic grenade launcher, Metheny said.
Cain halted the first vehicle-borne IED with suppressive fire but a second one knocked him off his position.
"He found his weapon in a pile of rubble and continued to engage," Metheny said.
Cain said he was eager to stay in the fight because he believes in what he's doing.
"We're here to stop the insurgents from attacking the local nationals," he said.
Spc. Jeremiah Church was shot through the wrist while manning a .50 caliber machine gun in the gunner's hatch of a Humvee during a firefight in early August.
Church applied a tourniquet to his own arm and continued to fire more than 1,000 rounds, killing 11 insurgents, according to his fellow Soldiers.
As a combat reconnaissance unit, Bravo Troop's mission usually involves gathering intelligence on local insurgents and detaining them or, if attacked, engaging them with the use of deadly force.
On previous missions, the unit has prevented insurgent fighters from crossing into Iraq over the Iranian border. They have also uncovered al-Qaida in Iraq torture houses and rescued the prisoners. They have found and destroyed large enemy weapons caches, some more than 400 meters in length, containing items such as mortar systems, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank mines, artillery rounds, katusha rockets and AK-47's.
Dobbins said that one key to the unit's success has been its ability to gain the trust of the local populace and gather information from them about the insurgents' whereabouts.
"When we come into an area showing dignity and respect to the local population, people begin pointing to where the bad guys are and telling us who's got fake I.D.'s," Dobbins said.
"I think the locals are sick of the Wahhabists forcing their ways on the village and they're quick to point out who's bad and where the weapons caches are," Metheny said.
The unit recently took part in Operation Lightning Hammer, clearing several villages and palm groves in the Diyala River Valley of enemy insurgents and weapons caches.
As an infantry unit, the squadron often conducts dismounted patrols in neighborhoods, carrying heavy loads of weapons, ammunition and other items on their backs in temperatures upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
"One of the hardest parts here is keeping that energy and momentum going because of the heat and the gear that you're wearing," Lillie said.
Bravo Troop has adopted as its slogan, "Molon Labe," a Greek phrase which translates as "Come and get them."
The phrase, recently dramatized in the movie "300," was reportedly uttered by Spartan troops at the battle of Thermopile when their Persian adversaries asked them to put down their weapons.