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Thankful to be alive

He's a 21-year-old soldier and amazingly upbeat considering that the right side of his face is peppered with shrapnel and there is a slit in his right eyelid.  His vision is blurred, but fortunately he is not blind.  His other injuries include a fracture of the bone in his right forearm so bad that the bone was sticking out of the skin and there is possible damage to his carotid arteries.

His story is, sadly, a very common one here at the Air Force's hospital in Balad, the hub for transporting wounded U.S. soldiers to the Army hospital in Germany and then back home for treatment in the states. 

This soldier, unnamed here because of concern his family has not yet been notified of his injury, was the driver of the lead vehicle in his convoy when an Improvised Explosive Device blasted his Humvee so hard the huge armored vehicle flipped over.

"One minute I was driving and the next thing I remember I was in the back of a tank," he told me.  "They say if you hear the explosion, you are OK. I didn't hear this one." 

Like many of the injured soldiers here, he had experienced IED explosions before, most recently last week.

Because every seriously injured U.S. soldier passes through here, it can seem to be an endless stream of misery. If it is not an IED then it is sniper fire or mortar rounds. The body armor the soldiers wear works well, but it can't cover everything. As a result, every night one helicopter after another deposits soldiers with mangled arms and legs or head injuries and often, like with this soldier, both.

According to the commander of this medical unit, 98 percent of the injured who make it here go out alive. And, indeed, it is a sobering sight to see the work of the doctors, nurses and medics here who treat all these severely injured people day and night. But last night they lost one U.S. soldier on the table in the operating room and everyone feels it today.

Tonight, as Nightly News airs in all the U.S. time zones, we'll be flying on the huge C-17 transport jet that is converted into a flying intensive care unit with this soldier and dozens of other injured Americans from here to Ramstein Air Force base in Germany, and then traveling on the Landstuhl Army Hospital, the next stage in the care.

Meanwhile, this soldier is thankful to be alive.