Local soldier survives humvee blast

Pfc. Evan McDonald, right in driver's seat, and two other soldiers in his squad in a Humvee in Iraq. McDonald, from Mt. Vernon, was severely injured in November when a Humvee he was driving rolled over an Improvised Explosive Device. Contributed

United States soldiers call them IEDs, which is short for "Improvised Explosive Device."

IEDs aren't fancy. They are fashioned with what's available by the Iraqi opposition to attack American troops.

"Old artillery rounds, mostly, and they steal those," Pfc. Evan McDonald said. "They don't have access to real stuff."

Some of the IEDs are victim-detonated, but many of the bombs are wired to handheld controls, such as old garage-door openers.

"They hide them on the roads, then watch until you run over them," McDonald said.

McDonald, a 1999 graduate of Long Creek High School and now a private first class in the Army, has intimate knowledge of IEDs.

During four months in Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division, Eighth U.S. Army, McDonald had three Humvees blown up under him. The third time, in November, knocked him unconscious for a week and put him in the hospital for nearly two months.

From Iraq, he was transfered to the American military base in Landstuhl, Germany, where he was treated for two broken arms, a broken hip, a broken tailbone, a collapsed lung, popped eardrum and a cracked skull.

Doctors didn't have much hope for his recovery; so they called his wife, Wendi, in Missouri, to offer her a trip to Germany to see him before he died.

"I didn't belive anything they said. I waited until I saw him myself," she said.

Wendi called McDonald's father, Scott, in Mt. Vernon, but couldn't get ahold of him because he was elk hunting.

The elder McDonald finally heard about his son's condition a day later when an Army sergeant called to offer him a trip to Germany.

"It's standard operation to fly two family members to where the soldier is, if they think he's going to die," Scott McDonald said.

Scott McDonald had never been out of the country; so he had to get a passport and then he started a 30-hour flight to Germany. He went to Seattle, to Chicago, to London before landing in Frankfurt, Germany.

The hospital at Landstuhl was state of the art, he said, staffed with American doctors. His son was hooked to wires and tubes and still unconscious, but he was alive.

"I was just happy to see him in that condition," he said.

Wendi and Scott were in Germany for 17 hours, waiting for Evan's condition to stabilize before getting on a C-141 cargo plane for the flight to Washington, D. C., where Evan was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital.

The trip back was like being in a cattle car, Scott McDonald said. There were 25 injured soldiers in stretchers stacked three high. Medics had to lay on the floor to treat patients on the bottom.

Other passengers sat on nylon webbing bench seats. It was cold and drafty, and many people were air sick.

It was a shabby way for soldiers to travel, Scott thought, and later he called Rep. Greg Walden to complain.

"I went to high school with him," Scott said. He also passed his complaints to just about every politician he saw in Washington.

Evan didn't wake up until he was in Walter Reed. When he opened his eyes and saw his father and his wife, he asked, "What are you doing in Iraq?"

Scott and Wendi stuck around for about four weeks, while Evan slowly got better.

When he got back to Grant County, Scott was happy to know he still had his job with the Forest Service, where he's a tree planter in Umatilla County.

Evan became an outpatient, moving into housing near the hospital with his wife and two children - Ian, 4, and Hannah, who was born while he was deployed.

"It was bad over there. There wasn't much hope to see her," McDonald said.

McDonald was stationed at a camp midway between Fallujah and Ramadi, two of the most intense hotspots in Iraq.

Rockets hit the camp every day, and two soldiers were kidnapped out of the base and killed.

"It was just as dangerous to be sitting in camp drinking coffee as it was to be out on patrol doing something," McDonald said. "One way or the other, you were going to get shot; so I just volunteered for everything."

Everytime McDonald left camp, he knew the patrol was going to get hit. It was just a matter of how bad. The rules of engagement that the Army operates under made it necessary for soldiers to take fire before firing back.

The day he was hurt, the IED exploded under the front passenger side of the humvee he was driving. A sergeant lost an eye in the blast. No one died.

"Everyone was hurt to some degree," McDonald said.

McDonald joined the Army 19 months ago for a six-year stretch. An honor student in high school, who had several offers of scholarships to college, McDonald tested high when he enlisted. Because of that he was a candidate for duty in the special forces and was given $12,000 when he signed up.

He showed an aptitude for languages, something he was interested in pursuing, but it's likely his injuries will keep him out of the special forces.

"Because of the injury to my head, which caused some bleeding on the brain, they probably won't give me a security clearance," he said. He has had some memory problems.

The day a fellow from Grant County called him at the military housing, McDonald had just returned from a Purple Heart ceremony.

"Yeah, I limped over there," he said.

He has good days and bad days, particularly with the hip.

"It's better now, but I had to learn how to walk all over again," he said.

He was assigned to Fort Carson in Colorado, where he faces at least eight months of physical therapy. There is the chance, however unlikely, that he would be deployed for another tour in Iraq.

"No. He's not going," Wendi said. "They will have to take me with him."

McDonald's grandfather, Ceilan Rader, fought in World War II in the 82nd Airborne. His name is on a monument in France.

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