Sgt. Aaron Carvalho, with the Army Reserve's 411th Engineer Combat Battalion, continued his recuperation yesterday from wounds he received in Iraq.

Wounded in Iraq

Big Isle Army reservist
receives a Purple Heart

Officials say isle reservists' pay is safe

Army Sgt. Aaron Carvalho said he can remember the car bomb exploding beneath his Humvee in Baghdad from the "second everything went boom."

"I thought I was going to die. ... You always think it never is going to happen to you. But it happens," said Carvalho, who received the Purple Heart on Sunday while recuperating at Tripler Army Medical Center.

Carvalho, a 22-year-old Army reservist, said yesterday that he had "a bad feeling" about the Aug. 21 convoy, perhaps because it left Camp Anaconda north of Baghdad so late. "You don't want to be on the road after dark."

"I was the driver of the third vehicle in the convoy. We went under one of the overpasses. The first vehicle went and then the second one and just as I went under there was a loud boom -- a loud explosion," Carvalho said. "After that, everything went white ... you can't hear anything. It lasted for a couple of seconds. ... The smoke cleared and I looked down at my leg and it was busted open. I looked to my right and I saw my sergeant. She was carrying her arm."

Sgt. Juanita Wilson, Carvalho's supervisor, who was sitting next to him in the front seat of the Humvee, lost several fingers and is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethseda, Md.

"We had five people in our vehicle. The first sergeant in the back seat kept pounding on my Kevlar (helmet) and saying, 'Keep driving. Keep driving,'" Carvalho said. "I didn't think he realized my leg was all busted up. I stepped on the gas and we hardly moved. I pushed down on both of my knees and we somehow rolled out of there."

Carvalho showed the shrapnel taken from his leg.

Carvalho, a supply specialist with the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion, said God must have watching over him.

He said he always had a crucifix around his neck along with his dog tags. After he was operated on in Baghdad, his nurse asked him, "Do you wear a cross?" He told the nurse he thought he lost it in the chaos.

"As he rolled me over to change my dressing, he said, 'I think God was watching you tonight.' I said why? And he said, 'I think I just found your cross,' and he took it off my butt.

"So I guess God was covering my butt."

The crucifix is now taped to the pill container that holds several pieces of shrapnel -- the largest the size of walnut -- that were taken from his right leg.

Mark Carvalho, Aaron's father, said the wound on his son's right thigh is the size of two fists. Shrapnel also pierced his right elbow and arm. His right femur was chipped by the shrapnel.

The Big Island native and the four other soldiers in his Humvee were among 6,916 wounded, up 226 from a week earlier, in Iraq since U.S. forces invaded the country in March 2003.

Carvalho and Wilson are members of 411th's Alpha Company from Hilo, which arrived in Iraq on April 2 and are stationed at Camp Victory North, northeast of Baghdad International Airport

Carvalho was operated on in Baghdad, where most of the shrapnel was removed by a surgeon who is from Hawaii, Mark Carvalho said. His son was then flown to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany, where he was treated for four days. He arrived at Tripler Army Medical Center on Thursday and on Sunday received his Purple Heart medal from Lt. Gen. James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve.

For now, Carvalho's immediate goal is to walk a few feet from his hospital bed to the room's door unassisted. He hopes later to complete the Big Island's police recruit school, which he was forced to leave in January six months into a nine-month course.

Like so many wounded soldiers Carvalho doesn't take pleasure of being taken off the battlefield and away from his comrades.

"I kind want to go back," said Carvalho, who enlisted four years ago. "I miss them a lot."

"Realistically, it probably won't happen, but if my injuries were healed in a matter of months and they cleared me 100 percent and my unit was still there, I expect to go back.

"It doesn't seem right not to. We all joined up for the same purpose. Just because someone gets hurt or injured, it doesn't give them a free pass ... I really wished that it didn't happen. But I am still alive ... and if they clear me I want to be back with my guys in Baghdad and come home together."


Officials say isle Army
reservists’ pay is safe

The more than 1,000 Hawaii Army reservists mobilized for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn't face the major pay problems that their colleagues have encountered after reporting for duty.

That is the assessment of local Army Reserve officials.

"That is because the payroll for our soldiers is authenticated right here," said Lt. Col. Howard Sugai, spokesman for the 9th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Shafter Flats, the headquarters of 3,300 Army reservists assigned to the Pacific region.

Brig. Gen. John Ma, commanding general of the command, said the only issues Hawaii reservists from the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion faced were cost of living and housing allowances, which have to be manually inputted into a servicemember's record each month.

"But we track it very closely, to make sure that their pay is calculated correctly," Ma said.

Earlier this week, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, chief of the 209,000-member Army Reserve, said the findings of the General Accounting Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, were not surprising when it reported that 95 percent of Army reservists on active duty suffered payroll problems.

"We already knew of the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the current pay system," Helmly said on his first visit to Hawaii since taking command in March 2002.

Helmly said he spoke for more than seven hours before the House Subcommittee on Government Reform on the problems of the Army Reserve's payroll system. After his testimony, Helmly told the congressional panel: "Frankly, describing today's pay system, it's a damn wonder anyone gets paid."

"The system we are under today, which is a Reserve component pay system, was not designed to support reserve soldiers called to active duty," Helmly said. "It was designed to support soldiers who were on inactive duty -- what we commonly call weekend drills and annual training."

This results in systematic problems because it does not take in special pay benefits -- such as allotments, hostile fire, family separation allowance, and proficiency entitlements -- for which a Reserve soldier may be eligible once he reports for active duty.

"All of this has to be done manually," Helmly added.

By late 2006, Helmly added, the Army Reserve should be a part of an integrated pay and personnel system -- Defense Integrated Manpower and Human Resources System -- which includes the active forces.

Helmly said that for enlisted soldiers their pay becomes tax-free as soon as they land in Kuwait, which is generally the first and last stop of soldiers deploying to Iraq.



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