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Lifetime friends wounded in Iraq

June 30, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Two Hedgesville men serving with the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing were wounded in Iraq Monday when a homemade explosive device blew up near their convoy, the wing's chief of staff said Tuesday.

Of the two, Staff Sgt. Brad Runkles was more severely injured, but is expected to fully recover, said Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver of the 167th Airlift Wing, which is based in Berkeley County.

Runkles was to be flown from Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, possibly Tuesday, for more medical care.

Runkles's father, Douglas, said Brad, 22, had second-degree burns on the right side of his face and his right arm, as well as a cut above his eye.

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Staff Sgt. Derek Brown, 23, suffered burns on his arm, ears and lips, his mother, Melody Brown, said. He was treated and released back to duty, Sencindiver said.

Melody Brown said Derek and Brad - whom she described as inseparable childhood friends - were in a 5-ton dump truck when the bomb went off.

The truck was part of an Army convoy, possibly near Tikrit, she said.

She said Derek told her that it was the fourth remote-activated bomb the convoy had faced in a few days.

"This one got us, Mom," she said Derek told her.

Melody Brown said Derek was in the back of the truck, Brad was in the passenger seat - closest to the bomb - and another man was driving.

Douglas Runkles said he was told a helicopter swept the road two or three times ahead of the convoy, but didn't find the explosive device.

The device had been planted on or near the road, Sencindiver said.

Brad talked to his family at 10 p.m. Monday and said he was OK, his father said.

"He's a good strong boy. He's upbeat," Douglas Runkles said. "He's talking kind of slow. He had some painkillers."

Melody Brown said Derek and Brad joined the Air National Guard together - which was no surprise, considering how tightly they've grown up.

"They played ball together when they were 5 years old," she said.

Both are athletes. Herald-Mail archives contain Derek's name in Hedgesville High School football and basketball stories.

Brad pitched and played on St. Maria Goretti's 1999 championship baseball team, the second year in a row it won a title. He also played basketball.

They joined the 167th Airlift Wing in May 2000, Sencindiver said.

Derek and Brad went together to basic training, to Spain and to Missouri, Melody Brown said.

She said they left West Virginia for Fort Dix, N.J., on Feb. 18. According to Sencindiver, they were deployed overseas on Feb. 23.

After three or four weeks in Kuwait, they were sent to Iraq as vehicle operators. Sencindiver said five members of the 167th Airlift Wing were traveling with the Army supply convoy.

Melody Brown said Derek and Brad have told people serving with them, "We're not going out without each other."

Which leaves her wondering what would happen if Brad is sent home, leaving Derek behind.

"They've never been anywhere without each other," she said.

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