Carlos Brown Is a Hero (No Matter What He Says)

I’ve known him since the seventh grade, when he was awkward, obnoxious, and unpopular with the girls (okay, we both were). He always said he was going to be a surgeon, and when the Navy sent him to Iraq, I flew there to see him. I watched him work around the clock to save soldiers and civilians, Americans and Iraqis—even insurgents. Through it all, his mission never changed: Ignore the politicians, take care of the patients, kick butt at PlayStation, and get home safely.

It is easier to understand the destruction of a human body than the destruction of a city. To fully comprehend a town in ruins, you need a before-and- after shot, some solid reference to what was once there. Or at least a tour guide, someone to walk you through the remains of a neighborhood and tell you how tall the buildings used to be, who lived there, where they worked, and where their kids played.

You don’t need that with a body. When you see a person carried into an emergency room on a stretcher, his pants ripped at the knees like cutoff shorts and what appears to be piles of ground chili meat spilling from the tattered cloth, you know what is gone. You know what a leg is supposed to look like.

These are the things you think about in a place like Ramadi. I spent the last two weeks of January there watching a lifelong friend from Austin, Navy Commander Carlos Brown, perform trauma surgery at a military hospital. He took in casualties almost every day, Americans and Iraqis, warriors and civilians, alone and in groups up to sixty. They suffered from wounds caused by accidental gunshots and stray mortar fragments and homemade bombs that were packed in lorries or buried in the ground and ruthlessly calculated to hurt as many people as severely as possible. Carlos had been in Ramadi for four months at that

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