‘Your life could just slide away’
Eagle County correspondentGYPSUM – When Private First Class Tyson Ivie arrived at the Eagle County Airport on March 20, it was by the long route: from the battlefields of Iraq, through two military hospitals.His return was relatively quiet, no big fanfare. But what Pfc. Tyson Ivie suffered for his country at the still tender age of 21 was big indeed.But, at least, he’s home, and he’s already on the mend.”He’s doing well. He’s healing really quickly,” said family friend Erin Cochrane.On March 10, Ivie, a military occupational specialist with the 101st Army Infantry Airborne’s 11th Charlie Division in Iraq, was cleaning a 120-millimeter mortar system, after returning from a mission. A round of enemy mortar fire hit right outside the fortified facility where he was working. The mortar round did little damage to the building, but a small piece of shrapnel hit Ivie in the chest.After being “patched up” by army medics, he was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany, where he had open-chest surgery. The shrapnel was small, but had traveled up through his chest, just missing his lung and his heart. But the shrapnel bruised the heart and damaged the lining around it.On March 12, Ivie was flown from Germany to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., where he remained for four days, before being released to return home to his family in Gypsum.”You kind of know, in the pit of your stomach that the call is going to come,” said Ivie’s mother, Cher Ivie. She hoped she’d never get that call.The fact that Ivie was alert and well enough to make the phone call himself was a huge relief. “If someone else would have called me, I know I would have been beside myself,” she said. Her son knew that. The Army knew that too, she adds, and has a policy encouraging soldiers be the one to call, when possible. His ribs now wired back together, Ivie speaks quietly, matter-of-factly about his service in Iraq and his subsequent brush with death. “It’s all I can do,” says Ivie. “If I don’t do it, nobody else will.”Cochrane, who has known him since they were in fourth-grade and now dates his brother, Nathan, says that’s typical of Ivie. “I think he will be humble about it,” she said.
Felt a dutyCochrane was surprised when Ivie joined the army. “He was always one of the people who could make you laugh. He’s very caring,” she said. “If you have something going on with you, he will try to make it better. I didn’t think about him as that type of person. But the more he talked about it, the more I understood why he wanted to do it.” Ivie said enlisting in the service was something he thought about all through his years in high school. He graduated from Red Canyon High in 2003, and enlisted in February, 2005.”I felt like it was a duty. I wanted to fight for freedom,” said Ivie, whose grandfathers both served in the military. After basic training in Atlanta, and a stint of duty at Fort Campbell, Ky., Ivie was deployed to Kuwait on Sept. 28. From Kuwait, he was transported to Baghdad and then taken by helicopter to his station in Iraq.Ivie is not at liberty to say where was stationed in Iraq; nor can he say what battles he fought. He describes his duties with 11th Charlie as indirect fire support. He was, he explains, a “mortar man,” handling 60-, 82- or 120-millimeter mortars. His job was to receive coordinates from fellow servicemen under fire, punch them into either a mobile or fixed ballistic computer with a global positioning system, and then launch the mortar.”With indirect, you can’t see what you are firing at,” he said. The troops that are out on missions communicate to the mortar men, directing the launching of the motors from afield.Cher Ivie said she knew the moment her son enlisted he would be sent to Iraq. She sees that as an inevitable aspect of serving with the armed forces, regardless of the decade. The arrival of a small niece and nephew she is now caring for helped distract her from the dangers facing her son. “That has helped tremendously; it occupied my mind,” she said. The Ivies also drew comfort from their other son, Nathan, who is close at hand. Over thereIn his five months in Iraq, Ivie saw plenty of enemy fire. “We’ve been mortared a couple of times for counter batteries,” he said.But it is not his own condition Ivie is anxious to talk about.”I think it’s important for everybody to understand it is getting better over there. It may not look like it on the news, but it is,” he said.
Part of Ivie’s job in Iraq was to train the new Iraqi Army. When he first arrived, he and his fellow soldiers had to man five towers and a security gate around their area. Now, the Iraqis man the towers, while the U.S. soldiers watch the gate. It’s not just the armies that are cooperating, Ivie said. The Iraqi civilians are helping, too. “They help us as much as they can. You have your days,” he said. “But if something bad is going on, they let us know.”He recalled one time when insurgents placed a bomb on a major bridge nearby. The Army knew nothing about it, but some civilians saw it, and gave a warning. Soldiers used robots to defuse it. “There are a lot of rumors that the people don’t want us over there and they don’t care about us. But there is more to it than what people think,” Ivie said. “I know for a fact that there are more people who want democracy than anything else,” he added.More matureCher says her son has changed in the past year. She sees more maturity. She still also sees the boy that went away.””For the most part, he’s always been himself. I’ve always been extremely proud of him,” she said.On April 19, Ivie will return to Washington D.C. for a checkup. “If I’m fine, I’ll return to duty,” he said. There’s still a chance he might be sent back to Iraq to complete his tour, although the possibility is strong that he will remain stateside until his release from the Army in June of 2008. He worries about his friends that are still over in Iraq, noting that training and working with fellow servicemen creates a sense of family. “I know I’m safe; but I’ll know they’re not,” he said.”The other side of him feels he needs to be there with his buddies and his whole troop,” added his mom. “He wants to be there to help them and protect them.” Ivie admits that if he is returned to Iraq, he will feel more vulnerable. When he first went over to Iraq, he says he was not too worried about being hurt. Word from others was that his entire brigade had only lost three people. But after being hit, the possibilities have sunk home.
“Your life could just slide away,” he said.=========Rallying around a soldier in needBy Connie SteiertEagle County correspondentEAGLE COUNTY – When soldiers are in need, says Private First Class Tyson Ivie, they band together.”They (the Army) think about the morale of all the men as much as possible, and do what they can,” Ivie says.He speaks from experience.When Ivie was hit by shrapnel while serving in Iraq on March 10, the medics and doctors had only one goal in mind – to save him. His clothes and possessions were afterthoughts. The clothes he was wearing that day were cut away as the doctors opened his chest in Germany to work on the lining of his heart. The soldiers and helicopter pilot who flew him from Iraq to the hospital in Germany, by policy, did not take any of Ivie’s possessions with him.”When you’re wounded, they just want to get you out of there and get you better,” said Ivie’s mother, Cher. When Ivie woke up from surgery, all he had was the hospital gown on his back.The Red Cross promptly provided a package of toiletry items, as well as two handmade quilts sewn by a volunteer. The relief organization also gave Ivie a $250 allowance to purchase items he needed from the commissary once he was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The Army provided him with other clothing, and flew Ivie’s parents out to see him.”Doctors felt the thing that would help him the most was to have his family close,” says Cher. The parents stayed in a makeshift motel room set up for families of wounded soldiers. When Ivie felt well enough, his mom and dad took him on a wheelchair tour of the city’s monuments.Vail, Colorado