SOUTHERN IRAQ He was the best runner in the battalion, the sharpest shooter in the company, a big kid with quick reflexes and a good eye. When he heard the blast, he ran.
|Everyone thought it was Iraqi mortar fire. Dave Wieczorek bolted toward his Bradley fighting vehicle. His boots pounded the sand. One came down on a small metal cylinder. It blew up.
It was Wieczorek's last sprint.
|"Doctrine states you don't use these munitions in places where you're going to put your troops."|
Pvt. Mike Jones, 20, of Dallas saw Wieczorek step on the cluster bomb. "He flew up in the air. When I got to him he was real glassy-eyed. I kept talking to him. His hands wanted to grip something.
"I put my hand down and told him to grip it," said Jones. "I knew he was in pain because he put me in pain."
The explosion blew Wieczorek's legs off. During the night, after a helicopter plucked him from the sand and took him to a medical base, he died.
Pvt, David Wieczorek (pronounced Wuh-ZOR-ick), 20, of Gentry, Ark., was a member of a First Cavalry Division company. The division, nicknamed the Wolfpack, is dug into a bombed-out Iraqi Republican Guard outpost it was meant to pass through. But Thursday's cease-fire froze positions in place.
The Wolfpack now waits in an enemy field littered with unexploded bomblets dropped from allied warplanes.
On Feb. 26, seven American soldiers were killed while trying to clear a landing strip in southern Iraq of allied cluster bombs.
|Few paid attention to the tiny cylinders scattered throughout the encampment.||"A lot of these munitions have a high dud rate," said Maj. Bob Bynum, 40, of South Fulton, Tenn. "These things become little mines when they just lay there, only much more unpredictable. A vibration can set them off.|
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Michael Parker, 42, of Dallas, said it probably was not a good idea to stay on the Republican Guard outpost just west of the northern Kuwaiti border. But he said any area in the region may be as bad.
The Wolfpack and the rest of the First Cavalry rolled onto the Republican Guard emplacements Wednesday night after a 200-mile trek through Iraq.
There were no deaths from Iraqi fire. Thursday morning, the troops woke up to word of a cease-fire. Soldiers peeled off their chemical warfare gear and raised state, national and battalion flags over their armored vehicles. They scampered through Iraqi bunkers and battle positions, scavenging vehicles for souvenirs. Green fatigues with the Republican Guard's inverted red triangle were highly coveted.
Few paid attention to the tiny cylinders scattered throughout the encampment. Officers said one private picked up a bomblet and put it in his pocket.
It took off his hand and a leg at the thigh, but he survived.
Sgt. Bill Wilson, 34, of San Diego, was the first to reach him. "He said his foot hurt and he wanted to see it," Wilson said. "I took it and threw it it so he wouldn't."
|Seconds later and less than 100 yards away, Wieczorek stepped on the cluster bomb.
A third soldier standing nearby was wounded by shrapnel.
Soldiers stood silently as a helicopter hovered over their sprawled comrades, touched down, then took them away.
|One private picked up a bomblet and put it in his pocket. It took off his hand and a leg at the thigh.|
Wieczorek manned one of the M-60 machine guns that protect the Wolfpack's 14 Bradleys when they're not moving. He joined the Army under a college funding program and planned to go to school when he got out.
He had a girlfriend at home and had bought a car before heading to Saudi Arabia in September.
He was by all accounts an exceptional athlete and such a good shot that the Army wanted to send him to sniper school.
After the First Cavalry was sent to the desert, Wieczorek won a Soldier Achievement medal for finishing first in a 12-mile battalion march with full gear.
"He was outgoing, gung-ho, really great physically," said Rickey Weeks, 31, of Tupelo, Miss., who bunked with Wieczorek in basic training. "He was a funny guy, real smart, always making jokes. And he was a great runner. He could really run."
On Saturday, the Wolfpack gathered in a dusty circle for a memorial service.
Wieczorek's machine gun was stuck muzzle down in the sand, his helmet placed atop the weapon and his boots in front of it.
A platoon sergeant read a roll call of soldiers standing at attention. One name got no answer.
"Wieczorek!" he called plaintively. "Wieczorek!"
There was a brief pause. Then a bugler played "Taps."