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Remembering The 'Hardest Hit Unit In Iraq'

May 31, 2010 (Fresh Air)

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This interview originally aired March 4, 2010

In 2007, journalist and former soldier Kelly Kennedy embedded for several months with a U.S. Army unit in Iraq: Charlie Company's 26th Infantry Regiment. She spent hours with the soldiers out on patrol, and relates their worst and best days in her book They Fought For Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq.

The unit lost 14 men in Iraq, including nine soldiers who were killed when their Bradley fighting vehicles were hit by IEDs. Before Kennedy's arrival, another solider — 19-year-old Ross McGinnis — died after he threw himself on a grenade to save four of his friends. Kennedy talked to many of McGinnis' fellow soldiers about the incident, and tells Terry Gross what happened.

"On Dec. 4, they were out on patrol, and the grenade came right in through Ross' turret — he was the gunner — and he sees it and he tries to catch it. He's chasing it around the turret, and he's yelling 'Grenade,' trying to get the guys out of the truck, and no one really understood what was happening," Kennedy says.

"They didn't have time to react, but Ross knew what was going on. ... And then one of the other guys saw the grenade and watched as Ross threw himself against it and took the brunt of the force of the grenade and died instantly — but saved four of his friends."

McGinnis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and one of the soldiers he saved — Staff Sgt. Ian Newland — promised "to never waste the gift" he received that day, as Kennedy wrote in the Army Times.

Her series for the paper, called Blood Brothers, followed the 26th Infantry during their time in Iraq — and chronicled the issues they faced after arriving home.

Kennedy covers medical and health issues for Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Times and Air Force Times. Her writing has also appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, The (Portland) Oregonian and The Salt Lake Tribune.

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