“It was like a soccer ball being kicked,” said Kearney, 23. “The truck flipped two times and landed on the passenger’s side.”
Everyone inside the Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle was alive, but they all were banged up.
Kearney’s head was pounding from a concussion, muscles in his neck and shoulders were torn, and he suffered a cracked vertebra.
Training kicked in for Kearney, a 2007 graduate of the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, who is home until next Wednesday for some rest and relaxation.
Kearney, who was harnessed into the gunner’s seat, got out of the vehicle to make sure they wouldn’t be attacked again.
“I grabbed my M-4 (rifle) and crawled out of the gunner’s hatch to make sure there wasn’t a second IED,” he said. “Sometimes they do what’s called a ‘daisy chain’ — they’ll plant another bomb relatively close to the first one.”
Kearney helped his lieutenant tend to the driver, who had a concussion as well as leg injuries, and to an Afghan translator who also was hurt.
Kearney credits the 43,000-pound vehicle with saving their lives.
“If it had been a Humvee, I don’t think I’d be here,” he said.
There was a terrible odor in the air, and the blast blew a hole in the ground 7 feet deep, and 17 to 20 feet wide and long.
The force of the blast melted dirt into the truck’s chassis, and tore off thick bulletproof glass windows and blew open the top hatches, Kearney said.
It also broke straps inside the truck, launching gear and ammunition into the air like weapons.
“I got hit in the head with an ammo canister, and those weigh about 25 pounds,” Kearney said. “My fifth vertebra was cracked, and my doctor said I’ll probably have chronic back pain for the rest of my life.”
When help arrived, the soldiers eventually discovered that the bomb had been triggered by someone lying near a wooded area.
Kearney suspects the attack was engineered by forces loyal to the ousted Taliban or the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group The New York Times called “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan War.”
Kearney, who was awarded a Purple Heart, said he’ll return to Afghanistan and presumes he’ll work on fueling helicopters until his enlistment is over in December.
He is in the 4-1 field artillery, 3rd Brigade 1st Armored Division, whose motto is “First Or Not At All!”
While home, he has enjoyed the company of family and friends, especially his wife Anne, a 2006 graduate of Elyria Catholic High School.
He also found a little time to work on his 1987 Toyota Supra with his dad, Richard, who served in the U.S. Navy.
Kearney, who arrived in Afghanistan in September, said his other close calls in the war involve being shot at with high-powered rifles.
“There’s this weird supersonic crack — it’s almost like someone snapping fingers — and you’ll hear it hit close to you, and a split-second later, you hear the sound of the gunshot coming from the hills,” he said.
Asked if the U.S.-led NATO forces are winning the war, Kearney replied, “Yes — slowly but surely.”
“Our whole fight is counterinsurgency — to win over the locals and get them on our side to see what we’re doing as a good thing and to trust the (Afghan) government,” he said. “We’re already starting the drawdown process — the goal is to be out in 2013, which is a pretty lofty goal.”
Kearney said he is looking forward to returning to civilian life but is glad he served his country.
Upon his return, he plans to study at Lorain County Community College and earn a mechanical engineering degree.
“I eventually want to open up my own small machine shop,” he said.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.