CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — Staff Sgt. Kyle Keenan’s face bears no trace of the bullet that could have cost him his life.
A scout section leader with the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) from Fort Drum, N.Y., Keenan is a lucky man.
An Iraqi terrorist shot him at point-blank range with a pistol. But he just shrugged it off and fired back.
Keenan’s platoon was responding to a tip from Iraqi citizens in abu Hillan when it air assaulted into the sparsely populated area to apprehend two leaders of a local terrorist group.
“While we were still in the air, we saw two men running away from the target house in track suits – one green, one grayish. The one in green ran north, the other went south, and my section went after the guy in green because he was closest to us.”
Keenan led from the front of his platoon’s wedge-shaped formation.
As the point man, he carried a 12-gauge pump shotgun in addition to his M-4 carbine.
“We went toward where we last saw him, came around the corner of a house, and saw a reed line. We knew we were looking for him in the field there – but when I looked two or three feet away, downward, I saw his face and his eyes, and told him ‘Get up! Americans!’ and right then, I heard a pop and my head snapped back.”
His team leader, just behind and to the right, saw Keenan’s head jerk back and heard the shot, as well.
“As soon as the terrorist shot, I saw the flash and saw him — he was pretty close,” said Sgt. Joseph Connolly.
“For a split second, I thought Keenan was dead, but I didn’t even think about it, I just engaged.”
“I realized I’d been shot,” Keenan said, “but I didn’t know if it was in the head, or in my (helmet).”
After regaining his vision, Keenan shot and killed the suspect.
“The experience was so fast, there wasn’t even time to be surprised,” said Connolly.
The platoon went on to detain five men.
“After it was all over and we got back in the choppers, it hit me,” said Keenan. “It was a ‘thank God I’m alive’ feeling.”
The bullet pierced his helmet and exited without touching or leaving a bruise.
The man was found to have two grenades with him – one with the pin pulled out.
Keenan said he was shot once before on a previous deployment, but the round struck his body armor, leaving only a bruise. Improvised explosive devices have likewise detonated nearby, but failed to wound him.
“I’ve never been wounded, no Purple Hearts – scratches, little bruises, that’s all,” he said.
“This gear does what it’s supposed to do. It’s not supposed to stop the round; it’s supposed to deflect it, and that’s what it did…but it was amazing at point-blank range.”