Josh Brooks – 21st century warrior

The late 20th century was the deadliest century in the history of mankind, with two world wars, other major and minor wars, and political upheavals costing millions upon millions of lives. Some of those wars have bled over into this century. A few years back, I asked Pacific World War II vet J.B. Thomas what he thought about our current soldiers. I’ll never forget his reply: “We could lose 200 in a battle and it would never make the newspapers. You can take 200 of today’s soldiers and win a small war with them.”

One source says because of weight, strength, academic levels, and drug usage, a large percentage of current youth cannot qualify for the military, but those who do are equal to or better than most any soldier who ever served.

Josh Brooks was one of those who was well qualified. A wounded veteran of the Iraq war, Josh recently told this old soldier his tale.

Born in Middlesboro, Kentucky, in 1985, Josh is one of two sons of Danny and Joyce Thompson Brooks. Father Danny is a electrical supply salesman, heavy equipment while Joyce is office manager in the Kentucky health and environmental agency. Attending school at Middlesboro Primary and graduating from Middlesboro High School in 2003, Josh worked at McDonalds while a student, as well as playing baseball and basketball. Offered an academic scholarship, he chose to briefly attended Southeast Community College before following his heart and influenced by 9/11, he chose the military.

“My grandfather had served in the Army Air Corps and the Army and I always wanted to go into the military,” he said. “As well as being my father, my dad was my best friend, and when he saw that I intended to go into the Marines, he convinced me to go into the Air Force.”

Josh entered the Air Force in January 2004, and still having the desire to carry a weapon, he chose to go to security forces training after finishing basic at Lackland. His first assignment was as a member of the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron.

“They gave me a security clearance and we provided topside (above ground) security on missile sites. Whenever the missiles went out, we went out. We were in Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. In November 2005, I had knee surgery and was sent to the 90th Support Squadron. They put me in the armory during my rehab and kept me. I was an E-3 and was doing E-7 work for a year and a half. The Army was short-manned and sent a request for security forces to the Air Force. They told that the mission and destination was unknown and I emailed my request.

“In the summer of 2006, I was pre-deployed to Ft. Hood, where I took three months of training with the Army infantry. Afterwards, we flew to Bangor, Maine where a group of civilians who would see to groups going out and coming in. In November we then flew to Germany and on to Kuwait by a commercial plane, where we had Thanksgiving dinner. We took a military transport to Baghdad, Iraq, where we had to do a blackout landing at night. That was when reality hit.

“Baghdad had a rotten and sulphur smell to it. We were assigned to the Victory I Liberty Complex, which had been one of Sadam’s palaces. I was an E-4 and was a part of the Army’s 92nd Military Police Battalion assigned to teach Iraqi police how to do normal operations and how to work together. We would leave the complex every day to go to the Al-Baya neighborhood police station. Little neighborhoods are called Mahallahs. Their police acted receptive, but many of them were infiltrated terrorists who were cops by day and terrorists by night. Some of the military and the police hated us, but the regular population was receptive, especially the women and children.”

May 14, 2004, 4:30 p.m. The day had started out as a normal, but long, day. Josh was in a four-vehicle combat patrol in fully armed and armored Humvees, with the first and last vehicles mounting an M-2 .50 caliber machine guns on top, and the middle two vehicles armed with 240B machine guns. The unit had been in the southern part of Baghdad doing operations and were ready to return to their post. Having learned not to take the same route in and out, they had called in for their return route.

Josh takes it from there: “A radio call had diverted us and we posted security and headed home on their ‘Interstate’ before we were diverted to the police station to pick up intel. Iraqis don’t know how to drive and the street was pure chaos. We were stuck in stand-still traffic. We had been in gunfights regularly and I had an M-4 rifle. We were diverted down an alley with a row of buildings that looked like a ghost town to get to Route Aeros. The squad leader came on the radio and put us on extra-high alert. We were five minutes from our base.

“I had on noise cancelling earphones and felt an explosion and didn’t feel my injury. A shock wave disrupts time and space, and it’s silent, but then time rushes back. We had been hit by an Iranian explosively formed penetration mine (EFP) that is command-wire detonated. The mine is a cylinder with a concave copper plate packed with explosives and shrapnel debris. A week or two before a truck had been hit and burned. I could see smoke billowing out of our truck and I thought that we were on fire. I tried to get out our top turret and could see a river of blood coming from my leg and felt my leg hot, so I used my arms to get out to the hatch. I saw my leg and then felt the pain from the molten copper in my leg.

“Staff Sgt. Pregraves came to the truck, cut my pants leg open, and put a tourniquet on my leg. I’d be dead today if it were not for him. He then took my vest off and loaded me in the rear of the truck. I could feel my back burning from the hot platform. Besides myself, we had another wounded in action and one killed in action. The KIA was Staff Sgt. John T. Self of Mississippi. It was his fifth deployment and he would give you the shirt off his back, could get whatever we needed no matter what, and could fix anything. We had many Southern boys.

“Our medic was on leave and I remember a buddy holding and gripping my hand and shaking or slapping me to keep me awake. We egressed to the Green Zone to the Baghdad emergency room where I finally got a pain killer. As I went to sleep, I remember thinking that this might be the last time I closed my eyes. The next day while I was laying in bed and could hear mortars hitting outside the hospital. They put wet to dry dressing on my leg and it may have hurt worse than the wound when they took it off.

“My paperwork was delayed for two day before I got to Balad Airbase in Iraq. My temperature was 105, my veins had collapsed and I was dehydrated. They sent me straight to the operating room and put a central line to my heart, then they came in to present my medals. I was in very critical condition and they brought them so that I could see them in case I didn’t make it. (Josh received the Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge, among other medals.) A general called to tell my mother that I was now in Air Force hands and would be taken good care of. When I got to Germany I started to stabilize, but was weak and don’t remember much. I do remember how lush and vibrant the green grass in Landstuhl was.”

From Germany, Josh was taken to the air base in Bethesda, Maryland, and on to Wilford Hall hospital in San Antonio.

“The Air Force took good care of me, but the prognosis was that if I got to keep my leg, that I’d never walk unassisted. My dad had come to visit and told me: ‘I didn’t leave work to come to Texas to see my son give up.’ They gave me crutches and Dad helped me up. That was severely painful. After 30 days, they sent me home, because I could heal better there and could outsource any care that I wanted to use. They put me in bed for a year and a half in ’07. I had a great physical therapist and Dr. William McPeak, my ankle surgeon. By the summer of 2008, I was standing on my own.”

While working in Morristown, Josh met and married the former Megan Brooks Jarnagin. She had children Hank and Eliza Jarnagin in their family that also included children Adilynn and Stella Jane Brooks. Josh now works as the Dick’s Sporting Good’s Freight Flow manager, while the family attends the Avenue Church. Josh’s incredible tenacity has driven him to develop his body into an awesome form, while large scars on his leg remain a hint that he has put his life on the line in the service of his country.

“My stance is that I don’t care about any political agenda,” Josh ended. “My country provides for my freedom and I fought for my brothers and sisters around me. My goal is to positively impact people.”

-Jim Claborn is a retired history teacher and a historical reenactor, as well as a published historian.