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Eugene sailor gets Purple Heart.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

Chad Munroe of Eugene now boasts a brand-new Purple Heart - or as he likes to say, the award no one wants to get. That's because it's for those killed or injured in combat.

The 31-year-old petty officer first class in the Navy received the honor for an ear injury he suffered when a bomb blew up as Munroe and three others drove by in their Humvee. Munroe, who was injured while on a mission to disarm a bomb during his first deployment in Iraq, was given the Purple Heart in April in a ceremony at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington.

"I treat it more as a badge of survival than anything else," said Munroe by telephone from the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, where he's receiving training for an upcoming deployment in the Middle East. "I'm proud that I'm alive to be able to talk about it."

His bomb squad's task that May 19, 2004, was no different from other days. Between January and June 2004, Munroe's team disarmed one to three explosives daily. The rest of the time, they waited in one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces.

"I'm more of an emergency responder. We make people feel safe about explosives," said Munroe, a member of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11. `The `bat phone' would ring and we'd have to go.'

This time when they went, insurgents detonated two roadside bombs, and the blast from one hit their unarmored Humvee.

The right side of the vehicle and its men took the brunt of the explosion. Lt. Mark McGuckin of Albuquerque, N.M., was knocked unconscious but regained consciousness before he was taken to a hospital, and Petty Officer 1st Class Brent Barto ruptured his eardrum.

On the left side were driver Petty Officer 1st Class Heath Nettleton of Fife, Wash., and Munroe, armed with an M16 machine gun and an M-203 grenade launcher.

All four men were tethered to the vehicle with safety harnesses.

Huge gusts of pressurized air tore through the Humvee.

"When it went off, I just remember it felt like someone had taken the palms of their hands and put them over my ears," he said.

Munroe said he thinks, overall, armored Humvees save more lives, but the fact that theirs was unarmored may have been an advantage because the air rushed through the vehicle instead of being trapped inside, potentially overpressurizing its interior.

"I could feel (air) going up in my sinuses and going up in my lungs," said Munroe. He said it felt like being underwater. "We were rocked pretty hard by the bomb."

McGuckin was airlifted to Camp Babylon in al-Hillah, Iraq, where he received medical treatment, but the other three still had work to do. Polish troops secured the area where the blast occurred and Munroe's team went back in to finish their mission.

They saw the holes left by the bombs that hit them, and estimated that they originally weighed 220 pounds each. But the bombs had been thinly encased, reducing the amount of flying debris, another factor why the four weren't hurt worse, Munroe said.

Each sailor has since recovered and is serving other missions for the Navy.

Munroe enlisted five years ago, after attending Churchill and Sheldon high schools before earning his diploma from Lane Community College. He met his wife, Shellee - who lives near the base in Whidbey Island with their three sons - in Eugene, and the couple's parents reside here.

The injury hasn't deterred Munroe and he still thinks his job is fun. He gets to sky dive, scuba dive and rappel from helicopters.

"We play with explosives and blow stuff up all the time," he said.

"This is the only job I would want to have in the Navy," Munroe said. "It's exciting. We do different stuff every day. Really rich people pay lots of money to do what I do, and I get paid to do it."


Chad Munroe climbs out of a military vehicle while in service in Iraq. He received a Purple Heart after an injury in the field.
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Title Annotation:General News; He calls the medal "a badge of survival" after being injured by an explosion in Iraq while on his way to disarm a bomb
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 22, 2005
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