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Christopher Bernard Waiters

U.S. Army / Distinguished Service Cross

Specialist engineered a daring rescue of two US soldiers trapped in a burning tank

As he raced toward the burning tank, the whizzing sounds of small-arms fire speeding past his head, Spc. Christopher Waiters never thought twice about the risks.

“You start thinking about life,” he said, “but it’s already too late for that. So you just keep going.”

An insurgent’s bomb had exploded beneath the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, spewing a black stream of smoke into the skies of Baqubah, Iraq, where Waiters’ unit had been on patrol the morning of April 5, 2007.

“My group was cleaning a real bad neighborhood. They were blowing a lot of American soldiers up in that area,” recalled Waiters, a medic with the 2nd Infantry Division, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment.

His unit had patrolled for more than 24 hours when the explosion shook the ground.

Waiters knew what he had to do: “I dismounted of my own accord and ran through enemy fire and started pulling people out of the tank.”

The soldier, then 25, fired his M-4 at two insurgents as he ran the 100 yards to the Bradley, now belching flame. Other enemies he couldn’t see were all around.

It was the worst possible situation for the Americans, under fire from rooftops and alleyways at a marketplace where a couple of hundred people were now scrambling to get out of the way. And the street was filled with other vehicles. Was one rigged with a second bomb?

Arriving at the Bradley, Waiters had two other worries: the intense heat from the flames and a cache of 25mm ammunition that was beginning to “cook off” inside the demolished tank. He knew he didn’t want to be around when rounds started exploding.

Waiters clambered aboard the Bradley, grabbed the driver and gunner and led them to safety. Then he returned to the burning tank to rescue a third soldier. That soldier, unfortunately, was dead, killed by the bomb blast beneath his feet.

Waiters was unhurt during the rescue, though parts of his uniform and combat boots melted from the fire’s intense heat.

And today he speaks somewhat fatalistically about the whole event: “I guess when you’re put into a situation like that, you’re either going to get it or not. It’s rolling the dice.”

Waiters believes the two Fort Hood, Texas, soldiers whom he pulled from the Bradley survived their burns and wounds. He regrets being unable to help the third soldier.

For his bravery, Waiters received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest military decoration, awarded for “extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat.”

Waiters never expected to receive a medal, much less such a prestigious award.

“When they told me I had been put in for a Distinguished Service Cross, I had to actually go and look it up because I had never seen one before,” he said.

Later promoted to staff sergeant, Waiters now trains a new generation of medics. His message to them is simple:

“Take (the job) seriously and pay attention to detail. Be proud of what you do and don’t take it lightly.”

S.L. Alligood covered the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division as an embedded reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an assistant professor of journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

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Waiters-award

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli presents the Distinguished Service Cross to Christopher Waiters during an Oct. 23, 2008, ceremony at Fort Lewis, Wash. Waiters, a specialist at the time of the incident, was a staff sergeant when he received his award. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

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Christopher Bernard Waiters

U.S. Army / Distinguished Service Cross

Nickname: Doc

Born March 13, 1982, in Landstuhl, Germany. Grew up in Germany and Seattle.

Wife, Susan; daughter, Ryanna, 6. Father, Bernard Waiters Jr., served in Operation Desert Storm.

Joined the Army in 1999 and has served two tours in Iraq.

WHAT HE DID
Pulled three soldiers from a burning tank while under fire from insurgents.

WHERE HE IS NOW
Staff sergeant at the Department of Combat Medical Training, 232nd Medical Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“I had nothing better to do. College was too expensive. I'll never get out. I'll die in this uniform.”


Iraq / Ba'qubah

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