Lackland Air Force Base, Texas —
"We were stranded. We were trapped. It was so confusing. People were panicking. People were just trying to survive."
Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, one of the Soldiers captured in the widely-publicized 2003 ambush that included Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson, spoke to an audience of more than 55 people here Nov. 8, retelling his experience of the convoy attack and his time as a POW.
For three weeks in the spring of 2003, Specialist Hernandez was held in Iraqi custody. He and his fellow Soldiers were moved seven times, each time corresponding with Allied forces nearing the prison he and four other POWs were being held.
During the moves, the transfer convoy would stop and Iraqi people would gather around to stare at the injured Soldiers as though the POWs were caged animals, according to the specialist.
"(Some of them) would throw rocks, spit on us, call us dirty names. ... People got crazy. They were hitting the windows. We got scared. We locked our doors from the inside. And the Iraqi soldiers didn't do anything. They were trying to make us scared. At that time, we thought we were going to get killed in front of all these people."
But not all the Iraqis were disrespectful to the Americans, according to supply clerk turned dental assistant. The guards would apologize when the food dwindled from chicken and rice, to cucumbers, to nothing. The police explain the reason they couldn't help the Americans escape was because the guards and their families had been threatened with death should the Soldiers get away.
According to Specialist Hernandez, who suffered brutality wounds to his head and a gunshot wound to his arm during the 45-minute firefight in Al Nasiriya, Iraq, the Soldiers were given medical care are regularly as possible, considering they were in a war.
"Every three days (the Iraqis) would bring a doctor to change our bandages and clean our wounds. He was real, real nice. It was the same doctor all the time. ... One day, he came in and his coat was so dirty and his hair was all messed up. He said, 'I come here for you, to help you. The Americans are bombing everywhere. My car flipped over, but I'm still here."
And, now that he's alive to retell his story, Specialist Hernandez said there were some funny moments.
"When they took us to the first prison, they tied my hands, my arms, and they put something over my head so I wouldn't see. And they put us into different trucks. ... It's funny now because I remember at the time I was still wearing my uniform and it was bloody everywhere. And my socks - I was supposed to wear black socks with my uniform and I had on white socks. The socks said the word 'Hanes,' and the Iraqis, they were repeating, 'Hanes. Hanes.' I could just hear them saying, 'Hanes."
On April 13, 2003, the Marines rescued Specialist Hernandez and the other POWs. "Now my life is different. ... I learned to appreciate life and appreciate this country," said the Mission native, a town 250 miles south of San Antonio. "When I was over there, I saw a lot of people, their cities, their country," he continued. "What we have here is a lot better than over there, and a lot of people don't appreciate that. Here we have a lot of freedom. We can do whatever we want. ... We can get a lot of money and build nice houses. Over there you don't have those same opportunities."
Despite his harrowing experience, Specialist Hernandez re-enlisted in the Army after returning from Iraq and said, if regulations didn't prohibit POWs returning to the war in which they were captured, he would return to Iraq.
"When you enter into the service you sign a paper saying you're accepting to follow orders from the President and the officers appointed over you. A lot of people talk bad about the war and politics and stuff, but I don't pay attention to politics. My job is to go and serve my country. So if they send me over there, I'll go. It's my job."
Specialist Hernandez is currently assigned to Fort Sam Houston.