Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 6, 2005) -- Imagine you are a military police Marine walking through the streets of Iraq on a routine foot patrol when your squad stumbles upon an unexploded ordinance wedged in a local national’s driveway. You and your military working dog take cover behind a seven-ton truck before the engineer team blows up the ordinance.
Now, imagine taking sniper fire while you’re kneeling next to the truck with your working dog strapped to your chest, trying to see where the shots were coming from.
The wind stings your eyes as you try to focus on anything that looks like a hostile force in the distance, when suddenly your dog jerks you away from the truck just as you get shot in the right shoulder.
Later you find out your furry companion saved your life from a sniper who’s been trained to shoot American service members in the throat between their helmet and flak jacket.
This may sound like an episode of the early 90’s television show “Rin Tin Tin K9 Cop,” but it was reality for Cpl. Justin D. Hamma, a dog handler with 2nd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and his sidekick Chang on Nov. 6.
“Once I heard the shot and dropped to a knee to return fire, the only thing racing through my mind was how far away the buildings in the distance were,” said Hamma. “The next thing I knew, Chang jerked me away from the side of the truck and it felt like someone hit me in the back with a sledgehammer.”
Hamma had been shot in the right shoulder just outside the protection of his flak jacket. He quickly fell to the ground and crawled under the seven-ton with Chang’s help.
“I’m hit and I’m under the truck!” yelled Hamma.
He and Chang shimmied to the front of the truck where they were pulled out and rushed to cover behind a building, according to Hamma.
Two Marines provided primary first aid on-site as an Army Medic with them and a Marine reservist, who was an emergency medical technician in his civilian life, rushed to the scene.
“I could hear they were talking to me, and I remember the sound of their voices, but I can’t remember what they said,” said Hamma.
Another Marine unhooked Chang from Hamma’s vest and attempted to
calm him down, while he was being worked on, according to Hamma.
Luckily, the bullet was a ‘through and through,’ meaning it went straight through him as opposed to the fragments being lodged in his body.
After administering his initial first aid, he was loaded onto an Army track vehicle en route to a Combat Outpost in Al Ramadi, Iraq.
“The staff sergeant – one of the Marines who gave him first aid – rode with me,” said Hamma. “He kept telling me to squeeze his fingers with my hand to make sure I still had movement in my arm.”
After all the experience of being shot and the commotion of getting on the truck, the only thing going through Hamma’s mind at the time was, “Where’s my dog?”
Hamma was seen by the onsite doctors in Ramadi, who revealed he had a broken bone in his humerous and a fractured scapula to go along with the bullet hole through his shoulder. He recovered well, but required additional surgery, so he was flown back to the states the following Friday – Nov. 11.
Three weeks after his injuries, Hamma still wears a machine to help heal his bullet wound, but wears no cast or anything for his shoulder bones.
“I’m healing better than I could have ever imagined after being shot,” said Hamma.
Hamma is very grateful for the care and quick thinking of the Marines who assisted in saving his life, and he’s glad to be back home, but there’s an essential part of his life that is still missing for him.
Chang is still in Iraq and he hasn’t seen him since the shooting, according to Hamma.
“I just want to see Chang so bad,” said Hamma. “If he were here right now, I would tell him I loved him and I would probably start to cry. I owe my life to him.”
Hamma’s command in Iraq is doing everything they can to get Chang back to him by December.