Injured in Iraq attack, Sgt. Kelly Horn returns to work in Berryville this week]

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

BERRYVILLE ---- When Kelly Horn returns to work this week at Tyson Foods, he will be a different man than when he left more than a year ago.

Horn, 34, is "almost 100 percent" better after being hit by a rocket attack in Iraq that destroyed his bunker in a guard tower, and punctured both of his ear drums.

He's been home about two weeks now, and Tuesday he will return to the Berryville Tyson plant, where he has worked for about 11 years as a night-shift maintenance man.

Sgt. Horn was a combat engineer for the 489th Engineers Reserve unit based in Harrison when he arrived in the war zone in April 2003.

He served months of daily patrols around Balad, Baghdad and Tikrit, working out of Camp Anaconda, on search teams looking for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which are often-deadly homemade bombs that are scattered around the roadsides of the streets and highways of Iraq.

During that time, some of the men in his company were wounded. Their primary mission was to protect themselves and the Iraqi civilians from the explosives, which were laid out at night and discovered by the search teams one way or the other ---- by encountering explosions or finding and disarming the devices.

"We took occasional sniper fire, and we had to contain the IADs, but it was very frustrating because we couldn't react to the sniper fire or the bombs," Horn said in an interview Sunday from his home in Harrison.

"We could establish a defense perimeter, but we couldn't react like an army because there were women and children and ordinary Iraqis all around. The (insurgents and terrorists) are bad people, and they don't have any regard for the lives of the Iraqi civilians and children. They used the crowds and the ordinary people as human shields, and that was very frustrating, and disgusting. We can't react when there are 40 or more innocent people around, including women and children, right in the damn fire zone.

"It was extremely frustrating," he said. "There is no device to measure how frustrating it is, not to react Army-style, with full force. All we could do was help the defenseless people," he said.

"Our medics were out there helping the wounded Iraqis. Our medics were like gold, treating one Iraqi man that had his foot almost completely blown off. That's all we could do was try to help them, because the enemy is a handful of bad folks setting out explosives at night, and the next day all the other Iraqis are going to work, and there are kids all over the place. The people we were fighting against were not really soldiers.

"It really tests you. Part of you has to maintain control, and part of you wants to be mean. Several of our men got out of control a couple of times, but we helped them regain their control. We had to look out for each other."

The rocket attack that put him on a Medivac plane to Germany came on the night of Feb. 23, when a rocket streaked in and exploded within five feet of him.

"Those things travel so fast, that when they're coming at you you can't see them, but you can hear them," he said.

The impact stunned him and four other men, blowing up their bunker and blowing dirt all over them.

Horn was the only soldier seriously hurt in the attack, and from Germany he was transferred to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and then on to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, the Army's much-respected hospital center at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.

He spent about six weeks in the hospitals, and had synthetic replacements for his ear drums that will dissolve as his own ear drums repair themselves.

"I can hear just fine now," he said.

He said his interactions with the Iraqi people were for the most part good, with the exception of hostile areas such as Tikrit, the stronghold of Saddam Hussein supporters and other insurgents.

"The children were great," he said. "They were all over us all the time."

When he was wounded he was guarding the now-infamous prison near Baghdad where soldiers allegedly mistreated and took humiliating photographs of Iraqi prisoners, which now have caused anti-U.S. reaction around the world.

"We didn't have any part of that, or molest anyone. We were guards in the towers, but we heard about it. We all ate dinner together, and the stories were abuzz. It was common knowledge."

After all Sgt. Horn experienced in Iraq, he believes he is a better man.

"I'm probably a better person having done what I did," he said. "It made my family a lot closer. They sent candy and other things, and the local paper, and a lot of the guys wanted some of that when we were at mail call."

Sgt. Horn is no longer on active duty, but he is still a member of the Army Reserves.

Asked if the experience in Iraq was worth it, he paused for a minute and said yes.

"I was really lucky," he said. "We lost one young guy in our battalion, and some of my experiences and my wound pale in comparison to what happened to some of the others."

Sgt. Horn is the son of Richard and Jean Horn of Harrison, and has a 15-year-old son, Justin. His wife passed away a few years ago. He also has two grown sisters, Sarah and Janice.

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