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"Sticks and stones may break my bones" is an old adage that has new meaning for Sgt. Kathryn Burke, 402nd Brigade Support Battalion, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Burke was manning the gunner's hatch of a Mine Resistant Armor Protected vehicle in a resupply convoy bound for Forward Operating Base Frontenac when she gained her new insight.
After a few convoy briefs and a few cigarettes, Burke climbed into the MRAP and took up her place in the hatch as gunner for the first time. The rest of the soldiers loaded into the vehicles and the convoy moved outside the wire.
Afghanistan's limited highways cause convoys to frequently travel the same routes. Highway 1 goes straight through the heart of Kandahar City, capital of the Kandahar province and home to nearly 500,000 Afghans. This particular day was the beginning of Eid al Ahda, the festival marking the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham. The streets were crammed with locals who were on holiday from work and school.
Young boys and girls dressed in fancy clothes gestured for candy that U.S. Soldiers sometimes toss to them from passing convoys. But this time, something was tossed back from the busy street and Burke received it.
"We were driving, and I was scanning up and scanning down from the rooftops to the people, and I heard something from my 7 o'clock, so I looked that way. As I scanned back, a rock hit me in the face," Burke said with a chuckle. "The rock hit me and everything went dark. Then I felt blood filling up my mask. That's when I came down from the hatch."
Staff Sgt. Nathan Abkemeier was the other rear gunner and heard stones hit the vehicle but hadn't noticed that Burke was hit until she dropped into the crew compartment with blood all over her face and gear. Abkemeier quickly scanned the crowd for more stone throwers before coming down to aid Burke.
"I looked down and saw Burke and the blood and grabbed her. She blacked out completely as I was holding her," Abkemeier said. "I tried to lay her down. The blood was coming from her nose and into her mouth. She was in and out of it, so I got her helmet off and asked her questions to make sure she was alert. I yelled to the tactical commander to stop the convoy and get a medic back here as soon as possible because of how much blood she was losing."
The convoy stopped as soon as possible and a medic came back to assess Burke's injury. The medic treated her as other soldiers dismounted to secure the vehicle. After the medic provided Burke gauze to stem the bleeding, the convoy continued its mission to FOB Frontenac.
For the rest of the way Burke cleaned her cuts and face and wanted to climb back into the gunner's hatch, but she was advised to wait until she could be seen at the aid station.
Burke went to the aid station right after arriving at the FOB.
"The medics looked at my nose and said it wasn't broken," Burke said, "but it will bleed for a while."
Burke grew up with an older brother in the small farm town of Hawarden, Iowa. She gives him some credit for her toughness.
Burke said her hometown was fairly quiet. Before Afghanistan she had not traveled much, counting Germany for a previous duty station and Pakistan for humanitarian aid as her only trips outside the U.S.
Burke plans to use the Montgomery G.I. Bill to study Psychology after the Army, but she has yet to pick a school.
This is Burke's second deployment, and she plans to keep her eyes for the duration it. Without the eyewear, her eyes could have been seriously injured.
"Protective eyewear is very important," Burke said.
Sticks or stones, Burke is ready for the next mission.