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FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ — Some people would call turret gunner Luke Abbott lucky to survive the powerful suicide car bomb that exploded less than 20 feet from his Humvee June 6.

He sustained a fractured upper jaw, collapsed sinus and a ruptured right ear drum. He very easily could have been blown to atoms. He has been taken off duty until further notice. It appears that he is going to get at least part of his hearing back. Saturday he heard a low hum, which is cause for hope. He’s quite sore, but he’s OK. He wants to be back in the turret.

Abbott figures it was more than luck. “I have a very strong faith and I know that it could have been a lot worse without God’s intervention,” he says.

A preacher’s son who would like to be an Army chaplain one day, Abbott was wearing a camoflage bandana beneath his helmet when the blast hit. The bandana, presented to members of the unit by 113th Engineer Battalion Chaplain Rev. James Gazaway, is inscribed with the 91st Psalm, which reads in part:

“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that walks in the darkness nor the destruction that lays waste at noonday ...”

The bomb exploded about 12:40 p.m. Abbott has kept the crease in the bandana in the exact spot where it was at that moment. It underscores the phrase “nor the destruction that lays waste at noonday.”

At the moment of the explosion I was 1,000 meters or more away, behind two airport buildings, and felt the slap of the shock wave.

“I hit the turret with the Kevlar (combat helmet),” said Abbott. “The Kevlar saved me. I didn’t know about my face or my hearing until we were at the CASH (Core Support Hospital). Adrenalin, a beautiful thing, compensated.”

Right now Abbott is stone deaf in his right ear. “‘If it comes back, that’s a good thing. If it doesn’t, thank you for donating your hearing to freedom,’ that’s what he (the doctor) said,” Abbott recalls. “I think it will come back though.”

Abbott, a Demotte resident and member of the Hobart High School Class of 2001, wants to get back at it. “I’m always in the turret, ” he said. “That’s my job. Whenever we leave the wire (go off base) I’m in the turret. That’s my job. I have a certain sector of fire. That’s my job.”

He figures his crew has been outside the wire more than 100 times since arriving here in December. “We’ve taken rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire a number of times.”

The suicide bomber stuck as Abbott’s Humvee was making a turn near the airport that serves Forward Operating Bases Marez and Diamondback. “I was airborne,” he said. “It threw me up in the turret. Nine times out of 10 when there’s a VBED (Vehicle-born Explosive Device) there’s an ambush, so I was trying to hang on (to the .50-caliber machine gun). We didn’t get ambushed.”

Abbott and his wife Marissa have an 18-month-old son named Luke, Jr. “At first she took it really rough,” he said. “But she’s doing better now. She’s doing a great job. When you look at it, I’m with a bunch of fellow soldiers and friends and I know I am safe. But she’s wondering on a constant basis if I’m OK.

“She’s the true tough guy - person.”

His parents are “all right,” he says. “There was a moment of crying and all that kind of stuff, but they took it pretty well.”

Abbott “still looks like Phil Collins,” quips his second lieutenant, Eli Gray.

Says Abbott: “I know the Kevlar is excellent, but I’m forced to say that some of God’s little angels are up there in their own little CASH right now getting fixed up.”

Editor’s note: W.S. Wilson is embedded with the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Combat Engineering Battalion, based out of northern Indiana and now deployed near Mosul, Iraq. Most of the 113th’s soldiers are from northern Indiana.

To contact Wilson: wsw@rochsent.com.

Published June 14, 2005