UNSUNG HEROES: The Guardsman Who Saved His Crew From A Live Grenade Inside A Tank

Unsung Heroes

“Clank,” went the first grenade, as it ricocheted off the tank’s turret.


Spc. Brian Sheetz pictured here.

The men knew the road they were on was dangerous.  They were in the heart of Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. This was Saddam Hussein’s former stronghold and the insurgency was thriving here. This particular road had been nicknamed “IED Alley.”

It was Feb. 27, 2006, and tensions were high. Five days earlier, Sunni extremists had bombed the gilded dome of the Samarra's Askariya shrine, an attack that would unleash devastating sectarian violence throughout the country.

Spc. Brian Sheetz was among some 2,000 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, who had been mobilized and deployed to Iraq eight months earlier. The mission of the 2/28 BCT was to help quell the insurgency and train Iraqi security forces.

For now, Sheetz was the loader on an M1A1 Abrams tank. He and his comrades were conducting 24-hour security operations in order to keep open a critical supply route near Camp Habbaniyah. The men were approximately 80 kilometers west of Baghdad.

The men had scarcely noticed the first grenade. “Unknown to the crew, insurgents were advancing on the tank's position with the intent to destroy the tank and kill the crewmembers,” states Sheetz’ award citation.

Sheetz had been looking out of the hatch. Suddenly, a second grenade fell inside the tank, landing at the feet of the gunner, tank commander, and Sheetz.

“With complete disregard for his safety to save his comrades' lives, the loader, Spc. Sheetz, quickly grabbed it and yelled ‘grenade.’ He then put himself between the grenade and the crew to ensure their safety while throwing it out of the loader's hatch,” the citation reads.

As Sheetz was releasing the grenade, it detonated in his hand. Shrapnel tore up his right hand and his face, and he lost vision in his left eye.

The other three men in the tank were uninjured. Sheetz is credited with saving their lives.

Sheetz doesn’t remember his thought process in picking up the grenade.  He told a Pennsylvania newspaper, “I remember throwing it outside and seeing it detonate, but not picking it up.”

Despite his profuse bleeding and loss of vision, Sheetz wanted to stay and secure the area. Only upon the insistence of his tank commander was Sheetz medevac’d to the base for medical treatment. He was subsequently flown to a military hospital for surgeries to remove as much shrapnel as the doctors could.

Incredibly, Sheetz was back with his unit a week later. He served out the two remaining months of his deployment as a driver and radio operator.

For his actions, Sheetz received the Silver Star, the third-highest award given for valor. His award citation summarizes:  “Specialist Sheetz is an ultimate example of what a true hero exemplifies for conspicuous gallantry in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Sheetz has since retired from the military. He went on to become a service officer at the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, working to help other veterans get the benefits to which they are entitled.

"He was playing hot potato with a live grenade," said a spokesman for the Pennsylvania National Guard in an interview with a local paper. "God was on his side."

Photo by Lance Cpl. William Perkins
(Courtesy of Jackie Melendrez)

Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Iron Mountain. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Iron Mountain is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.

Jackie Melendrez couldn't be prouder of her husband, her sons, and the fact that she works for the trucking company Iron Mountain. This regional router has been a Mountaineer since 2017, and says the support she receives as a military spouse and mother is unparalleled.

Read More Show Less
Photo: U.S. Army

Master Sgt. Larry Hawks, a retired engineer sergeant who served with 3rd Special Forces Group, is being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Friday for "valorous actions" in Afghanistan in 2005.

Read More Show Less

The Iranians just blasted one of the US military's most sophisticated and expensive drones out of the sky as tensions in the Strait of Hormuz reach the boiling point.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Lawrence Hurley)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 40-foot-tall (12 meters) cross-shaped war memorial standing on public land in Maryland does not constitute government endorsement of religion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a decision that leaves unanswered questions about the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

The justices were divided on many of the legal issues but the vote was 7-2 to overturn a lower court ruling that had declared the so-called Peace Cross in Bladensburg unconstitutional in a legal challenge mounted by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for secular governance. The concrete cross was erected in 1925 as a memorial to troops killed in World War One.

The ruling made it clear that a long-standing monument in the shape of a Christian cross on public land was permissible but the justices were divided over whether other types of religious displays and symbols on government property would be allowed. Those issues are likely to come before the court in future cases.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press/Facebook)

A relative of the man who opened fire outside downtown Dallas' federal building this week warned the FBI in 2016 that he shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun because he was depressed and suicidal, his mother said Thursday.

Brian Clyde's half-brother called the FBI about his concerns, their mother Nubia Brede Solis said. Clyde was in the Army at the time.

On Monday, Clyde opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at the Earle Cabell Federal Building. He was fatally shot by federal law enforcement. No one else was seriously injured. His family believes Clyde wanted to be killed.

Read More Show Less