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Injured soldier returns home

June 02, 2010
A Crawford County soldier injured in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq has returned home with a Purple Heart and plans to resume the life he left behind two years ago.

Justin (Buddy) Payton
Justin (Buddy) Payton, 24, of Marengo, came home May 10 after being hospitalized at Fort Knox, Ky., for the last 17 months. He's now in the process of buying a house and plans to return to his old job and get on with his life.

Payton, the son of Jim Payton of Marengo, graduated from Crawford County Junior-Senior High School and still has a plaque on his wall at home that honors him for having perfect attendance from kindergarten through high school.

About a year after graduation, he joined the Indiana National Guard, took basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., then transferred to Maryland for more training. In February 2008, he left with his unit for Kuwait, spent a week and a half there, then went on to COB Speicher in Iraq. COB (Contingency Operating Base) Speicher is a large military airfield and base. It is named after Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot who was killed in action in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War when his F/A-18 Hornet was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

"We ran convey missions," Payton said. "The trucks that hauled supplies to the bases were always in convoys, and we supplied security for them. I was a gunner in one of the 5-ton security trucks. We usually had five or six trucks with three of us in each truck. The crew included a driver, a truck commander and a gunner."

On April 24, 2008, Payton was the gunner in the lead truck. The convoy had been to "Anaconda Base" near Balad and was on the return trip.

"There were some other Crawford County guys serving there with me," Payton said. "Brandon Parr from Leavenworth, Peter Garcia from Marengo, Robert Neal from Mifflin and Brandon Underhill from English. On that trip, Peter Garcia was the driver on the truck, I was the gunner and a soldier named Joey Collins was the truck commander. We were getting close to the base when I looked down and saw an IED (improvised explosive device) laying on the road. It was an artillery shell with four 9-volt batteries taped to it and an extension cord connected to it that ran across the road. Some of the rubber insulation had been cut from the extension cord and when something runs over it, it shorts out, creates a spark and sets off the bomb.

"By the time I saw it, it was too late to stop the truck," he said. "It went off when our front tire ran over it. There was just no time to react."

The blast demolished the front of the truck and knocked Payton unconscious. He regained consciousness within a minute or so, saw that the truck was on fire and jumped. He landed on his elbow, crushing it from the impact.

"I guess I had a concussion," Payton said. "Brandon Parr was in one of the other trucks and was the first one to get to us. I had lost all feeling in my arm, but I was the only one injured. We were lucky."

Payton was sent to a hospital for soldiers in Landstuhl, Germany. His arm kept going numb, and he was eventually sent to another hospital.

"They told me I needed surgery," Payton said. "But I was put on steroids and sent back to Iraq. They said I could finish my service, about two months, and then have the surgery later. The two months ended up being about six months. After that, I was sent to Camp Atterbury and the doctors there sent me on to Fort Knox in January 2009."

Payton went through 17 months of physical therapy at the Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox and was housed at the medical barracks of the Warrior Transition Unit. He still has problems with his arm and, although he's improving, his memory was affected by the concussion. He has also been diagnosed with PTSD caused by the traumatic brain injury.

"I was processed out on May 10," he said. "I turned in all my gear at the National Guard Unit in Jasper and came home. A lot has changed. The Old Town Store has closed, and there are new buildings and houses around the county. Everything looks a little different now. But I enjoyed Iraq before I got hurt. It was a good experience. It was hot, sometimes up to 140 degrees; 152 degrees is the record. And it's over 100 degrees every day. It tried to rain twice while I was there, but it didn't amount to much. We drank a lot of water and Gatorade."

Payton's former employer, River City Metals and Recycling in Louisville, held his job while he was gone and he plans to return to work there.

"Actually, I start back to work there next Wednesday," Payton said. "They take care of military guys."

Payton was awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge for his service in Iraq.

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    Thank You.
    June 03, 2010 | 10:37 PM

    First, let me say welcome home. My family and I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service to our country. We hope you recover well and best of luck in the future.

    The Payne Family.
Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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