Soldier Stories: Damon Rooney

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(Host) For the past year, the Vermonters of Task Force Saber have had to confront life and death situations during combat in Iraq.

Twenty-year-old Damon Rooney of Craftsbury is one of those soldiers.

Rooney was trained to load ammunition into the guns mounted on tanks.

When he was deployed to Iraq, he was told he would be sitting in the tank "gunner’s seat" and firing the weapons.

He describes how he came to terms with taking a life while performing his duty.

We want to tell you in advance that while this is what soldiers face, the subject matter may be disturbing.

(Rooney) "At first, it was definitely overwhelming, not so much that I didn’t know what to do in the seat, but just knowing that this is the real thing. You know, the last time I’d had sat in the gunner’s seat before coming to Shelby was during my basic training. I sat there. I touched off a main gun round, ok, you get out of the seat, next guy get in.’ And now, you know, I was in the thick of it."

"We had to go out one night, we were escorting the Iraqi security forces, training them up, and Catamount Company they called us up saying we need to run a snap raid. They had a high-value target come up through intelligence that was gathered, and you know he’s in this house right now, we need to get him.’ And this was at night, so I had the thermal imaging system on the tank on, which picks up heat signatures and I noticed a pack of dogs running across the road, and obviously it was hard to tell they were dogs because at that distance, they just look like little specks. But I noticed one of the dogs was climbing up the side of a building. And I told my tank commander, you want to have a look at this? There’s a guy up on the roof.’ He was like, well how do you know it’s a guy?’ and I was like, well, I never saw a dog climb a roof."

"He was overlooking right where they were conducting the snap raid in a known IED location. And all the tactic, technique procedures, the TTP of trigger men over there was to just set up and watch, to wait for something to happen and judging by the fact the Iraqi people had a curfew, they had to be, they could be in and around their houses, but you weren’t supposed to be on the roof past 22:00 a night, that’s ten p.m., and this was at two o’clock in the morning."

"And so we got the clear to engage him, we deemed him as a threat, we had this 50 caliber machine gun with a special mount and there’s a lot of work you have to go thorough, properly lining it up with the sights and inputting ballistic solutions into the tank’s computer to use it correctly. And as I got the clear, you know, storm 2 you have,’ that was my call sign, storm 2, you have the clearance to shoot.’ I was like, this is it, this is the real thing’ this is my proving point to say, could I actually kill a man? And I ranged and engaged the target, effectively neutralizing the threat, and that was a big moment for me. It was the first time I was put in that situation".

"More would come later, but I knew that I could do the job that I had to do over there. I don’t look upon it in a bad, in a bad way, I think it’s sad, you know, that people had to die, but at the same time, I didn’t do it just to kill them, I was doing it to protect the lives of other soldiers, you know, my friends, guys that I trained with, guys that I knew. And, I do think about it often."

(Host) On Monday in Soldier Stories, Gabriel Bullard of Hyde Park talks about the camaraderie and the emotional impact of the war.

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