Curtis Reid was 33 years old when his heart stopped.
It happened in a dusty building southeast of Baghdad. He was surrounded by Soldiers he loved.
“I watched him die,” recalls Lyndon Kilcrease, then a newly-promoted Army specialist. “They started to resuscitate him, and I remember Jones saying ‘Look, he’s dead.”
While this sounds like the end of Command Sgt. Major Curtis Reid’s story, it was not. It was just a brief moment in an ongoing, multi-decade career that has spanned numerous continents and has touched the lives of hundreds of Soldiers.
While Reid now serves in a premiere leadership position as the senior enlisted advisor for 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, he came from humble beginnings. Like so many others before him, Reid joined the Army to get away from his hometown and to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I always wanted to serve because my father- he was in the military,” said Reid. His father was a Vietnam veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Reid grew up in the small, remote town of Fitzgerald, Georgia, which lies about three hours south of Atlanta. The town is located in dense pine forests and the last census put the population at about 10,000 residents.
Reid entered the service in 1994 as an infantryman. He and a group of others in his training class were chosen to specialize and became mechanized infantry, then known by the military occupation specialty code 11M. Reid was attracted to the lifestyle of the infantry.
“We’re the first ones on the battlefield to close in with and destroy the enemy,” he said. “That’s what lead me to wanting to be infantry.”
Reid remembers that the training at Fort Benning was grueling. Although the base was only two and half hours from home, it felt like a world away for him. He didn’t find out until completing his training that his first assignment truly would take him to the other side of the planet.
Reid arrived in Germany in the heart of winter.
“Growing up in the South, I’d never really seen snow before,” Reid recalls. “I was mesmerized and shocked.”
The weather was not the only shock Reid would get upon arrival. He soon found out he was bunking in a six-man barracks room with a communal shower in the hallway for multiple rooms to share. Modern Soldiers typically live in individual or two-person rooms. For the most part, communal showers are a thing of the past.
“The Army was really hard then,” said Reid. “You did something wrong and you would get the crap smoked out of you.”
Reid recalls that the leaders at this unit were tough and unbending in their adherence to the Army standards.
“It really made me aware of how high my standards needed to be, how disciplined I needed to be,” he said.
Reid carried on this hard-earned discipline as he moved forward in his career. Soon, he moved into leadership positions and was tasked with leading Soldiers on deployments around the world. He moved around often over the next decade including stints in Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Czech Republic, Kuwait and Iraq. His travels eventually brought him to 3rd Brigade, 3rd ID, at Kelley Hill on Fort Benning, Georgia.
He soon deployed to Iraq with this unit, and it was during this deployment that Reid’s life would change forever.
It was July 3, 2006. His unit had just returned from an overnight air assault mission that involved clearing insurgents out of a local village. Kilcrease remembers the Soldiers returning to their base—Combat Outpost Cahill—around 5:00 A.M.
“We were all bone tired,” he said. Most of the members of the unit weren’t aware that a change occurred overnight that would send the weary Soldiers back out into harm’s way later that morning.
“We were supposed to leave the [combat outpost] and head back to [Forward Operating Base] Hammer on the 4th of July to re-fit,” said Reid. He said his company commander needed Reid’s unit to head back to Hammer a day early, which was located about 50 miles away.
“So, we got ready and loaded up the Bradleys with the dismounts,” remembers Reid.
With the dismounted Soldiers loaded into the back of the vehicle, Reid told his driver to raise the back ramp.
“The ramp didn’t raise, so I got out of the Bradley and the driver got out,” Reid said. “We had to physically, manually push the ramp up in order for the driver to lock it.”
First their mission to go for re-fit was bumped forward a day and now the ramp on their vehicle was broken. Reid remembers thinking this seemed like a sign.
With the ramp finally locked in place, the line of vehicles departed COP Cahill and headed toward FOB Hammer. Reid’s vehicle was the last in line and was tasked with providing rear security. The 25mm cannon on his Bradley faced toward the back of the vehicle.
“The back deck has a cargo hatch,” Reid said. “Dismounts can get in and out of the cargo deck, but if that barrel is blocking that cargo hatch, you can open it but you can’t get out.”
Kilcrease was Reid’s driver that day. For him, the day seemed much like any other, although he was more tired than usual. The route was familiar to him, but he had strange thoughts as he drove it this time.
“I looked over to my left as I’m driving and there is this big open field and in my head I wonder if a medevac could land there,” said Kilcrease, referring to the medical evacuation helicopters that were commonly used in Iraq to rescue wounded Soldiers.
“Once we hit a certain checkpoint, we proceeded, and the next thing I know it’s just a huge explosion; it shattered my helmet,” said Reid. “I just remember calling out ‘IED, IED, IED’ and I looked over at my gunner and he was knocked out, unconscious.”
Reid recalls that the vehicles in front of him turned around immediately after the explosion and medics rushed to his vehicle.
“I’m kind of in shock and disarray and that’s when I pulled my gunner out and took him to the ground,” Reid said. “The medics were already there on scene. My driver had managed to get out of his hatch. He was hit with shrapnel and was on fire.”
Kilcrease’s recollection of the explosion was hazy.
“I remember us driving and then I remember ‘boom’ and then there’s, like, a brief 30 seconds or a minute that I was knocked out,” said Kilcrease. “I woke up and there was just fire everywhere. The [explosively formed penetrator] went off and it went through the fuel cell, then it went through the engine, then it blew into the driver’s compartment right behind me.”
EFPs were a common weapon used by insurgents to penetrate the thick armor of military vehicles. They work by focusing a weighted piece of metal in an explosion and can cause high levels of destruction on impact.
After Kilcrease woke up, he turned around and looked in the area behind the driver’s seat, dubbed the ‘hell hole.’
“I tried to release the back ramp so that the guys in the back could get out,” said Kilcrease. “There’s a lever; it’s the ramp lever. It releases the emergency hatch so you can push the button to lower the ramp. After I turned around and saw the hell hole was on fire, I grabbed the release. I tried to push the ramp button down but all the electronics had been knocked out of the Bradley, so nothing was working.”
With the ramp malfunctioning, Kilcrease exited the burning vehicle. He was on fire when he hit the ground and was tackled by a medic who put out the flame.
Reid remembers watching the medics treat Kilcrease. It was at this moment that he realized that the dismounts were trapped inside with a malfunctioning ramp and the gun blocking the top exit to the vehicle.
“I knew that if I didn’t do anything, they would burn alive in there,” Reid said. “From that point, I jumped back into the turret in my compartment. In the Bradley, you control the turret in mechanical mode or electric mode; I put everything in manual mode. Once I did that I was able to raise the gun the barrel.”
Reid lifted the gun barrel to max elevation and a Soldier in the back of the vehicle popped the hatch open halfway.
“I jumped out of the turret to where the cargo hatch was and opened up the cargo hatch all the way,” Reid said. “I jumped into the hull to where the dismounts were in the back- where they ride at. I took each individual out one by one and also the Iraqi interpreter. Some of them were unconscious, some of them were just confused from the explosion, so they didn’t have any idea what happened.”
After getting the last Soldier out of the vehicle, Reid jumped off the burning Bradley. Hitting the ground is the last thing he remembers.
“His adrenaline went out and he just collapsed,” said Kilcrease.
Reid’s next memory is of waking up in a small hospital. It was here where his heart stopped and the medical team resuscitated him. The medics treated Kilcrease alongside him.
“They’re scrubbing me down trying to control all these burns and pulling shrapnel,” he said. “They put [Reid] on a litter right in front of us. He quit breathing.”
“They resuscitated him and got him back,” Kilcrease said. “I can’t tell you how I felt at the time. I was just sitting there watching a dude that you kind of looked at as a father figure die.”
Reid’s next stop was in Landstuhl, Germany, where a medical team worked to stabilize him. The explosion ruptured his spleen, so the doctors removed it. Once he was out of critical condition, he was moved to Womack Army Hospital in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for recovery.
While the physical injuries were painful, the concussion caused neurological injuries that last to this day.
“I had to go through speech therapy, writing therapy, hand and eye coordination therapy,” Reid said. “It was like a two-year rehab. Sometimes I still have challenges with speaking.”
Reid, a religious man, said the recovery made him question the things he held dearest.
“I was questioning God, which is something I thought I would never do,” Reid said. “I was asking why this happened to me.”
Reid’s leadership presented him with the Silver Star Medal during his recovery time at Womack. His battalion’s senior noncommissioned officer came to visit him and asked what he wanted to do next.
“I was like, ‘sergeant major, I want to get back to my guys,’” he recalls. “He said no, and that I needed to take care of myself. My boys were going to be fine.”
Reid’s recovery was grueling, but he said that his faith, his family, and his love for the Soldiers he served with kept him pushing to get better. While these injuries might have ended the careers of other Soldiers, for Reid it was just a hurdle to overcome.
“I love being around Soldiers,” Reid said. “That’s why I’m still doing what I do, because I love being around Soldiers and taking care of Soldiers.”
It was this love of Soldiers that carried Reid through another Iraq deployment with 3rd BCT, 3rd ID in 2011. Although Reid left the unit shortly after this deployment, he carried the legacy of his time there with him. The Army deactivated 3rd BCT in 2016. Reid’s current unit, 1st Bn., 28th Inf. Regt., is the last remaining 3rd ID unit on Fort Benning.
“Third Infantry Division is my heart,” Reid said. “I wouldn’t want to deploy with any other organization than 3rd ID.”
Reid said that the Soldiers who work with him now are among the best he’s ever served with.
“We are an elite infantry organization and we are ready to go anywhere that the U.S. needs us to go,” Reid said. “I know that my Soldiers in this organization are fully trained and prepared to do what the nation calls on us to do.”
Reid cherishes this time with his current unit, but says he will never forget the memories he made with the Soldiers who were with him on the day he earned his Silver Star.
“We are forever linked because of what happened to us and I can’t think of any other people I’d rather be linked to,” said Kilcrease.