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Soldier used new medical skills to save lives


Pte. Tyler Jordan (left) and Pte. Mackenzie Murphy prepare to return to duty Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2006, following the suicide bombing that killed four soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others. Murphy is credited with quick action that saved the lives of several soldiers. (CP PHOTO/Les Perreaux)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - A combination of Irish luck and advanced medical training may have allowed a young private to save several lives in the latest suicide bombing that killed four Canadian soldiers.

Pte. Mackenzie Murphy, one of the few soldiers targeted in the attack to miraculously escape unscathed, used recent specialized combat medical training to staunch the bleeding wounds of eight or nine comrades.

"I didn't even get touched," Murphy, 22, a native of Dauphin, Man., said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"I was on the front end of the patrol there, and my section got hit. Everybody went down. I got hit by the suicide bomber's leg and it knocked me off into the ditch. I came back onto the road and saw everybody down on the road. From there I just did the medic stuff."

Troopmates on either side of Murphy were hurt badly, along with almost everyone else in his unit.

"Luck of the Irish there, eh?" said Pte. Tyler Jordan of Victoria. "The guys on both side of him drop down with mass injuries (from shrapnel). He gets hit with a leg. He is a hero, man. He saved people's lives that day."

Pte. David Byers, Cpl. Shane Keating, Cpl. Keith Morley of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based in Shilo, Man., and Cpl. Glen Arnold of 2 Field Ambulance based in Petawawa, Ont., were officially identified as the dead soldiers on Tuesday.

Ten soldiers were wounded seriously enough to be moved to an advanced hospital in Germany, but none of their injuries are considered life-threatening. Several others suffered lighter wounds.

Murphy is one of a few soldiers to have enrolled in a new course called Tactical Combat Casualty Care. He's not a medic, but he learned to quickly treat fallen and bleeding soldiers with the training to allow combat infantrymen to provide basic care under fire.

Cpl. Miguel Dulac of Montreal and platoon commander Lt. Craig Butler helped Murphy apply tourniquets and bandages to heavily bleeding wounds before handing off the casualties to "the professionals," according to Murphy.

Officials say the bike-riding suicide attacker packed one of the most powerful bombs they've seen in this kind of attack. The bomb was stuffed with rocks and ball bearings to kill and maim the Canadians. The blast was so big it killed a cow 70 metres away.

Murphy said his unit was on patrol and soldiers were not handing out goodies to locals as officials have reported. They saw nothing suspicious about the cyclist.

"We're not going to win by stopping everybody 100 metres away on bikes and on foot," Murphy said. "It couldn't have been prevented."

Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie said the training of Murphy and others has repeatedly saved lives on the dangerous mission in Afghanistan, where 36 soldiers have died. Lavoie said Canadian soldiers can't radically change their patrol tactics in the field and still win over Afghan civilians.

"We're trying to reassure the populace, so I ordered my companies to do dismounted patrols, walking through the villages," Lavoie said.

Most of Afghanistan can't be reached by road and soldiers can't reassure people "roaring through with armoured vehicles," Lavoie said.

The attack came Monday with a Taliban shift back to traditional insurgent tactics with suicide bombs and hit-and-run rocket attacks.

The attacks came on the heels of Operation Medusa, a Canadian-led NATO operation that confronted the Taliban in traditional combat and led to the slaughter of hundreds of insurgents.

Lt.-Gen. David Richards, NATO's commander in Afghanistan, said the victory may go down as a "historical feat of arms." He said Canadian soldiers should get a medal.

"It should go down in history, and it could go down in history, as the turning point in this campaign," he said.

"NATO have proved they can fight and beat the Taliban in the most difficult defensive position they've ever fought from, since 2001 certainly and probably even more. (Insurgents) were exerting this mental vice on Kandahar, and until we freed that psychological vice we weren't going to do all the other good things we're here to do."

Richards gave a pep talk to Canadian troops on Tuesday but few of them seemed to need one.

Murphy and Jordan said they are ready to go back in the field. Their superiors plan to have them back at work within 24 hours.

"It's what we signed up to do," Jordan said. "Everybody accepts the consequences."

"I don't want to make my family sad, I don't want to make my parents cry. Those two little girls out there didn't want anything to do with this (two Afghan girls were injured in the attack). We signed on to do it."

Murphy said his injured friends are saying similar things, even from their hospital beds.

"The guys who are told they aren't coming back just based on their injuries are pretty disappointed," Murphy said. "On the flip side, they're pretty excited to get home to see their families."

Well done Pte. Murphy!