"I'm one of those guys who believe in leading from the front."
His face is boyish and unassuming, and bears not a trace of the bullet that could've cost him his life. Staff Sgt. Kyle Keenan, a native of Newark, Ohio, and a scout section leader with the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, N.Y., is a lucky man.
An Iraqi terrorist shot him at point-blank range with a pistol, and he shrugged it off and fired back.
Keenan said his platoon, from Troop C, 1-89, responded to a tip from Iraqi citizens in abu Hillan, and air assaulted into the sparsely populated area to apprehend two leaders of a local terrorist group. The tip indicated the time and location the leaders would be having tea.
"While we were still in the air, we saw two men running away from the target house in track suits - one green, one grayish. The one in green ran north, the other went south, and my section went after the guy in green, because he was closest to us."
Keenan, true to his word, was in the front of their wedge-shaped formation, the point man, carrying not only his usual M-4 carbine but a 12 gauge, pump Shotgun.
"We went toward where we last saw him, came around the corner of a house, and saw a reed line. We knew we were looking for him in the field there - but when I looked two or three feet away, downward, I saw his face and his eyes, and told him 'Get up! Americans!' and right then, I heard a pop and my head snapped back."
His team leader, just behind him and to the right, saw Keenan's head jerk back and heard the shot as well.
"As soon as (the terrorist) shot, I saw the flash and saw him - he was pretty close," said Sgt. Joseph Connolly, a native of Minneapolis, Minn. "For a split second, I thought Keenan was dead, but I didn't even think about it, I just engaged."
"I realized I'd been shot," Keenan said, "but I didn't know if it was in the head, or in my (helmet)."
After regaining his vision, Keenan shot and killed the suspect.
"The experience was so fast, there wasn't even time to be surprised,"said Connolly.
"We made the call that he was dead, and we moved out," Keenan said matter-of-factly. "I took point again. We detained two (men) at the target house and turned them over to our medics and platoon sergeant, then went to the next house, detained two more, and then detained one at the last house, with a locked-and-loaded AK-47. We took them all to the platoon sergeant and started questioning them.
"They all said that the guy we really wanted had gone into the field, the one in the gray track suit."
They searched fruitlessly for the one in the gray track suit, Keenan said, in the fields and reed lines, clearing the houses three times before another platoon arrived to secure the area.
"After it was all over and we got back in the choppers, it hit me," he said. "It was a 'thank God I'm alive' feeling."
The bullet pierced his helmet and exited without touching or leaving a bruise.
The man was found to have two grenades with him - one with the pin pulled out.
Keenan said he was shot on a previous deployment, but the round struck his body armor leaving only a bruise. Improvised explosive devices likewise have detonated nearby, but failed to wound him.
"I've never been wounded, no Purple Hearts - scratches, little bruises, that's all," he said. "This gear does what it's supposed to do. It's not supposed to stop the round, it's supposed to deflect it, and that's what it did. - but it was amazing at point-blank range."
"I'm pretty happy that it all worked out the way it did," Connolly said.
After that mission, the platoon prepared their trucks and grabbed some food before heading out on another that afternoon, Keenan included. He told his wife about his near-miss when he got back late that night.
"She was worried," he said, but he reassured her and their 10-year-old daughter that he was fine.
He won't be changing the way he works, he added.
Something he definitely won't change is the arrangement of moveable pads in his new helmet. If it weren't for those pads, Keenan said the insurgent would have killed him.
"I don't like the padding much," he said, laughing. "I always wear my (helmet) low, right above my eyes - I"m still mad, too - I really liked that one."
Keenan has been through a lot, and he hopes that it's motivation for other Soldiers.
"As long as Soldiers see me do this, and see things like that happen and see me keep going - they'll keep going through this deployment."
Talk Show America 7/6/2007