Tour of duty a ‘life-changing deal’

Charis Patires

There are two questions 20-year-old Bryce Menges hears most often - have you ever been shot and have you shot anyone? The answer to both is yes.

“Iraq is a little different than everyone thinks. I have done things a 20-year-old shouldn’t have, but I have done it so that I get to come home.”

In September, the Camdenton, Mo., native found himself in a German hospital recovering after a sniper attack in Baghdad.

The bullet never made it through his body armor, but a piece of the metal plate shattered and went into his side.

At an intersection in a Bagdad neighborhood on joint patrol, Menges had taken Iraqi police to meet with the locals.

“My squad leader stopped to talk to some people and I was pulling security. I stepped back, turned and looked toward the mosque and the next thing you know I get tagged in the chest. When it hit me the only thing I can think of is ‘I don’t want to die.’ ”

He spent four weeks recovering, waiting for word that he was “mission capable” and allowed to return to his combat outpost. During that time he acquired a “nice DVD collection,” but Menges said he couldn’t wait to be back with his unit.

“In my squad there are 12 people. They are like my brothers and sisters. They can only understand what I have done,” Menges said.

It’s a way of life that requires him to be ammo ready. Up at dawn, Menges grabs his .240 Bravo and waits for the next assignment.

“The first thing I say is ‘God forgive me for yesterday, and protect me today.’ ”

As the only single member of the squad, Menges said he volunteers to be first through the door during a raid.

“I shoot the lock, throw the grenade and I’m in the door.”

The brigade spends much of its time trying to mend relationships with locals, searching for explosive devices, and training Iraqi police.

Menges says he won’t go near a pile of garbage or guardrail and has forgotten what a peaceful night of sleep is like.

Back in Camdenton on a 18-day mandatory leave, Menges said he had forgotten what it was like to leave the house without full body armor and had a hard time sleeping through the night.

It was too quiet.

He has now gone back to his 7-by-7-foot bedroom, eating meals out of a green box and calling home once a week to check in. He will make it back home sometime later this year.

“Overall, I am glad I’ve done what I’ve done,” he said. “As a young male what I’m doing and what I have seen change in Iraq is very cool. In the past seven months I have seen a lot of things change good and bad. It’s a life-changing deal for me.”

Lake Sun Leader