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Back from Iraq

Reservist Amy Shirk comes home after injury in land mine explosion

Reservist Amy Shirk comes home after injury in land mine explosion

May 01, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING, MD. - Ten days ago, U.S. Army Reserve Pvt. Amy Shirk was in the Iraqi desert when a land mine exploded just 10 feet in front of her.

The blast sent the Clear Spring-area woman flying backwards. She was not seriously hurt, taking no shrapnel hits.

Shirk said she landed on her right leg so hard that she suffered torn tendons and a serious sprain to her ankle. After sending her to hospitals in Kuwait and Spain, the Army shipped her home.

On Wednesday, Shirk was recuperating at her parents' home about two miles west of Huyett's Crossroads on Old National Pike.

Shirk, 23, an ammunition specialist, said she's glad to be back, although she can't stop thinking about the other members of her unit who probably will be in the desert until at least February.

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Shirk went into basic training about a year after she graduated with the Clear Spring High School Class of 1997.

She joined the Reserves and began working at the PetSmart Warehouse, all the while living with her parents and volunteering with the Clear Spring Fire Department.

Members of her Reserve unit, based in Greencastle, Pa., were called to active duty on Feb. 7.

She spent two-and-a-half months in the Gulf, which is less time than it will take for her ankle to heal.

But her time there was unforgettable.

"It's been an experience. I wouldn't change it for anything," she said.

Shirk was part of a convoy that delivered ammunition to the front lines.

One night she had just laid down when she felt a blast that shook the earth. She saw a big orange glow about 20 miles away. Later, she was told coalition forces had bombed a building where Saddam Hussein was believed to be hiding.

"We were 20 miles away and you could still see the smoke and the big mushroom cloud," she said.

On April 21, she was assigned to go to the front of the convoy and ask the Marines who were sweeping for land mines how much lead time they would need that day.

She was approaching them when one Marine stepped on a mine. He lost his foot and another Marine nearby suffered shrapnel wounds to his face, she said.

Now that she's home, she has to get used to civilian life again.

Shirk had gotten so used to looking over her shoulder and carrying her gear with her everywhere that it's been hard to break the habit since she left Iraq, she said.

Soldiers in Iraq aren't supposed to go anywhere without their gas masks.

"It was like your right arm or your American Express Card. You never left home without it," she said.

One night she left it behind while she went to the bathroom. A siren sent her scurrying back into her tent to get it while everyone else headed for the trenches.

The entire time she was deployed she didn't receive any mail, she said, noting that letters from family members probably are waiting for her with her unit.

On Wednesday, less than 48 hours after she got home, she got a package from herself. She had sent home her camera and three rolls of film to be developed.

She said it was a surprise to find no sand in the box. During sandstorms, the dusty granules permeated everything, even seeping through the tents, she said.

Because of the sand, most of the women cut their hair very short. Shirk had her hair shorn, but she said it was because of a bet.

She had bet her sergeant he wouldn't touch cigarettes for two weeks and the two-pack-a-day smoker held up his end of the bargain.

Shirk said she especially misses her "battle buddy," Jessica Snyder, 19, of Inwood, W.Va.

The two women had not met until they were deployed.

During down time, soldiers play football, listen to music and watch DVD movies on laptop computers, she said.

Some soldiers are collecting sand from every stop and storing it in the tiny Tabasco bottles that come in their MREs (meals ready to eat).

Shirk said she's had enough of sand, but said she did manage to salvage a piece of one of Saddam's palaces when she was in Baghdad.

Soldiers have few pleasures because they can only carry with them what will fit in a duffle bag. They call it the "duffle bag drag" or the "duffle bag shuffle," she said.

"If you can't put in there, you don't need it bad enough," she said.

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