Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt was a legend before he was blown-up by an IED in Ramadi, Iraq on September 19, 2005. This is an old story, but new to me. My friend David Lemon sent it via email, and it seems it has gone around the world many times. Burghardt’s commanding officer at the time said the photo below demonstrates the “warrior spirit.” This is my Sunday morning inspiration story:
On September 19th, 2005 this military hero stepped into an IED crater that had just killed 4 U.S. soldiers. Iron Mike chose not to wear a bomb protection suit, saying the suits are bulky, making it difficult to react to an explosion while wearing the protection.
Burghardt, a bomb disposal officer, entered the 5 foot deep, 8 foot wide crater and saw the device that blew him out of the hole. A Senao base station with a wire leading from it was in front of him.
He cut the wire and used his 7 inch knife to probe the ground. ‘I found a piece of red detonating cord between my legs,’ he says. ‘That’s when I knew I was screwed.’
‘A chill went up the back of my neck and then the bomb exploded,’ he recalls. ‘As I was in the air I remember thinking, ‘I don’t believe they got me.’ I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist down.’
The USMC Gunnery Sergeant, miraculously, was not paralyzed and did not lose his legs. Within minutes he found he could wiggle his toes. He stood up, flipped the bomber the bird and thought “Ok, I lost that round but I’ll be back next week.” Then he walked to the medevac helicopter.
Sgt Burghardt’s injuries – burns and wounds to his legs and buttocks – kept him off duty for nearly a month and could have earned him a ticket home. But, like his father, who was awarded a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam , he stayed in Ramadi to engage in the battle against insurgents who are forever coming up with more ingenious ways of killing Americans.
This Marine is considered one of the foremost bomb experts in the military and was on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He said probing for IED is “a big game of chess:”
Burghardt shakes his head in wonder at the variety and evolution of the roadside bombs he has encountered and the relentlessness with which they’re planted.
Washing machine timers, cordless telephone docking stations, battery acid, shaped charges and artillery rounds seemingly scrounged from all corners of the globe are the insurgents’ currently preferred tools. Yet Burghardt said it’s only a matter of time before they move on to newer and deadlier devices.
Iron Mike was already a Bronze Star recipient for his second tour in Iraq where he disabled 64 roadside bombs and destroyed more than 1,500 pieces of ordinance. He is now retired from the United States Marine Corps as a Master Sergeant.
The photographer of the above photo is Jeff Bundy. His day spent on that dusty Iraq road has made him famous and his photograph an icon around the world. Bundy was embedded from the Omaha World-Herald to document stories about Nebraskans serving in Iraq. He saw Burghardt step into the crater. Saw Burghardt pat the top of his head, which is the signal to soldiers behind him that more bombs were found:
“That’s when Capt. Searcey grabbed me by the body armor and pushed me down,” Bundy says. “As he did, the bomb went off.”
Bundy describes Gunnery Sgt. Burghardt’s actions as the “the ultimate act of defiance.” We know our military, located around the world, perform acts of incredible bravery and defiance every day, most of which we will never learn about. My God’s blessings attend our military and their families every second of every day.
Photo courtesy of Omaha World-Herald