By Paul Wood
RANTOUL — Staff Sgt. Dann Hufford earned the Bronze Star facing down a truck full of explosives heading right at him.
It was Sept. 15, 2005, near the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and the Danville native was in a Humvee — he’d enlisted shortly before graduating high school.
Several things didn’t feel right that morning. He was taking the place of a buddy who needed a day off, and was assigned to Truck 33.
“Truck 33 had a history of being blown up. It was odd getting into that vehicle knowing its history,” he says.
The interpreter wasn’t in uniform, and that too struck him as off. Then they came under fire, at a time of the morning that was usually quiet.
He yelled to the squad leader about coming under fire on the right side of the Humvee from an oncoming truck that was running at full throttle.
“That vehicle was not going to stop,” Hufford thought. “I knew his intentions were not going to be peaceful.”
He was manning an M240, a heavy machine gun, but he couldn’t get a clean shot in the turret.
So he grabbed a rifle and stood up out of the turret, shooting at the oncoming truck.
“I kept firing and firing and firing,” he recalls. Finally the vehicle swerved, and Hufford knew he’d hit the driver.
Still, an explosion went off about 10 feet away from Hufford’s Humvee.
He said the experience was like a movie, silence followed by all the sound coming back at once.
He left the truck and went into a ditch with his team leader. Mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades landed around them, with rocks and rubble hitting them.
“I was unconscious between blasts,” Hufford says.
When the team leader ordered him to move out, he thought his leg was broken. He began to crawl. He pulled a chunk of flesh off his body armor, realizing it was the Iraqi driver.
He could see the gash in his leg, and put a tourniquet on it that stopped the bleeding. His team leader was also wounded, and the interpreter was bleeding from her face.
“It was a hot mess,” he says simply.
The mortars and RPGs had stopped, and troops were able to get back to them.
But the MedEvac helicopter could only take two, and Hufford decided to stay — deciding that his leg wound wasn’t as dangerous as a head wound.
Later, a convoy picked him up, and he endured 20 to 25 minutes in a Humvee that seemed like an eternity.
Moved to an ambulance, he asked for a cigarette, despite the oxygen tanks. In what he describes as a moment of “unprofessionalism,” Hufford lit up anyway.
Much of his later treatment is still a blur. He woke up in Germany, then on a C-130 in the U.S.
His torn-up knee gradually healed after shrapnel was removed and a ligament repaired. At 31, he walks well enough now to carry two small children in tow.
After Iraq, he served with Urbana’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in air defense and control, and now teaches officer candidate school.
His day job — actually a night job — is as an armed guard at the Exelon nuclear power plant in Clinton, a duty that has been rattling since hearing about ISIS targeting a Brussels plant.
He has also been back to Kuwait for a 10-month stay.
He and Yvette Kerchner, who live in Rantoul, take care of four children.
Since he’s about to leave the area for further training, Hufford says “she’s the real hero.”
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at email@example.com.