Guardsman reflects on suicide bombing

A scar starting at the bridge of Sgt. David Staeb's nose, leading down to his lower lip, is the result of a suicide car bombing in Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2006. <i>Associated Press</i>

ROSEBURG - For Sgt. David Staeb, the trip a year ago started like any of his other missions in Afghanistan.

Staeb, along with other soldiers from the U.S. and the Afghan National Army, was riding in a Humvee in Gardez. As they crept along the dirt road, moving only 5 mph, Staeb stood guard in the vehicle's turret, rifle in hand. He was eyeing cars along the sides of the road, watching people as they moved around the vehicles.

Then he thought he was dead. One of the cars had a suicide bomber sitting inside who detonated a bomb as the Humvee passed, killing four people, injuring several others and damaging the military vehicle.

Staeb, who was only about 25 feet from the explosion, had multiple pieces of shrapnel thrown in his face. Only moments before, Staeb had been staring at a man in a small blue car who caused the cut, which ran the full length of his nose and across his mouth.

The explosion happened six months into his yearlong service in Afghanistan, and earned him a Purple Heart. But for Staeb, his injuries pale in comparison to those of soldiers from wars past, who were injured and often had to wait days for medical treatment and often ended up losing limbs.

"I don't think much of it. It was a cheap shot," said Staeb recently at the Roseburg Armory. "The only significance this day had was it made us realize, 'Oh, (expletive). It's real.' "

"It woke everyone up for sure," added Spc. Daniel Bennett. Bennett was in Afghanistan during the same 12 months, and was with a group of soldiers who were called in to assist after the explosion.

Staeb grew up in Washington and Oregon. He spent his freshman year of high school at South Umpqua and then moved to Enumclaw, Wash., where he graduated from White Pass High School. Soon after, Staeb signed up for a four-year commitment with the Marines.

After completing his time with the Marines in 1995, he had various jobs pouring concrete, logging and working maintenance for a ski area and ended up in Roseburg. He joined the National Guard in 2005 and in mid-2006 volunteered to go to Afghanistan.

"It's not because George Bush or a conservative or a liberal or someone says, 'Hey, you're going,' " the 32-year-old said. "We go because it's your friends over there. You'll hear that over and over again."

Staeb now lives in Eugene, but he also owns a home in Myrtle Creek that he rents out. He is working special teams for the Guard, training soldiers who are preparing to go overseas.

In Afghanistan, Staeb said, his first few months were aimed at providing security, but the final seven months he spent working with Afghan soldiers, training them and teaching them how to prepare their own teams.

"You develop a trust," he said. "There was a time in a fire fight when they wouldn't leave my side. They were being ordered to leave and wouldn't."

Staeb enjoyed shopping in villages, handing out clothing to people or getting to know the soldiers he was fighting alongside.

"That's the beauty of war," Staeb said. "It's not all blood and guts."

When he wasn't out on missions, he would sometimes watch movies like "Sweet Home Alabama" or catch up on episodes of "Grey's Anatomy."

He said it was how he kept his sanity in a place full of fighting.

"We did what we could, but you're kind of numb because you can't solve it all."

Staeb said he felt blessed to go to Afghanistan and will go overseas again. The ribbons and medals aren't important to him, but the work being done by soldiers and the developments made in overseas countries are.

He keeps the Purple Heart he was awarded on his father's gravestone. The only visible reminder for him of the explosion a year ago is the faint scar that begins at the bridge of his nose and trails down to his upper lip.

"He's the kind of person to say it's better to happen to him than someone else," Bennett said.

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