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Last night I met a hero

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- I met a hero last night. I did not realize it at the time, but he is the closest thing to a hero that I likely will ever meet. This is a place where the word "hero" is tossed around day in and day out, so much so that you sometimes lose sight of its true meaning. His story reminded me of it.

He was commanding a Bradley fighting vehicle that was struck with a roadside bomb, catching fire. The loading ramp jammed, trapping eight inside. The crew was forced to escape through a much smaller hatch in the top of the vehicle. All but one made it out. The medic was left behind, apparently unable to get out. Without concern for his own life, my hero went back in to the burning vehicle to retrieve his friend.

Six of his buddies came to us with severe burns. He came to us with burns over most of his body, the most severely injured of the group.

The surgeons worked for hours on his wounds and we worked for hours in the intensive care unit to stabilize him for transport. In the end, damage to his lungs made him too sick to be safely transported by plane to our hospital in Germany and then on to a burn center in San Antonio.

The ventilators we use for transport simply could not deliver the amount of oxygen he needed. If he stayed here in Iraq he would have died of his wounds. We simply cannot care for such severe burns here. Only a handful of hospitals back in the U.S. can.

Knowing this, our air evac team loaded him into the plane for the six-hour flight to Germany. They had to deliver every breath to him during that flight by squeezing a small bag by hand. I do not know yet if he made it to Germany alive, or if he will be able to fly on to San Antonio.

Back home there is a bridge named for Sergeant Elbert Kinser. My grandfather told me the story about why the bridge was named for him. It came to my mind this morning. He was fighting alongside his buddies when the enemy threw a grenade into their ranks. Rather than attempt to run to escape the danger he threw himself on the grenade, saving the lives of his comrades. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry, and the town named a bridge after him.

This is the story as I remember it being told to me. The details may be wrong. There is a memorial at the end of the bridge that tells Sergeant Kinser's actual story. Honestly, I do not think I have ever stopped to read it.

How many people drive across that bridge every day without ever wondering why it has its name? How many ever stop at the large parking area in front of the memorial to read the story of this man's last minutes on earth? How many of his friends are still alive to remember the story? How many grew old and had grandchildren because of his sacrifice? Did they thank him every day of their lives? The next time I cross that bridge I will stop for just a few minutes of my life to read about a man that gave all of his.

People use the word "hero" too much. We have cheapened it. We use it to describe football players and politicians. We even use it derisively at times to describe people we think are being too eager or self-promoting. It is even thrown about too cheaply over here when people describe groups of us just doing our jobs as "American Heroes."

Most of us will serve our time here with pride without ever truly earning that title. The man I met last night deserves to be called Hero. Years from now, will his friends remember what he did last night? Will I?

I have said it before and will say it again. It is a privilege to be here taking care of these troops. Are they all heroes? They certainly are more so than any athlete back home will ever be. There is a higher standard though even here. I was honored by seeing him in person last night.

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