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Melissa Helmick was steam cleaning the carpets at her home on Elmendorf Air Force Base over the weekend, getting ready for out-of-town relatives, when she got the call: Something had happened to her husband in Iraq. Helmick, 28, wasn't told in that conversation what that something was. She was only told that several military officials, including Col. Mark Douglas, commander of one of the four main units that make up Elmendorf's 3rd Wing, were on their way over to talk to her about the man she'd been married to for nine years and known since she was 16. "It was 3:18 in the afternoon on Sunday," Helmick recalled in a short but emotional interview Wednesday at an office on base. "I thought the worst." At her home, Douglas immediately let Helmick know that her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Helmick, 28, had not been killed but was seriously injured and in surgery after being airlifted to Germany. According to officials, Michael was riding in a truck near Mosul on Sunday with two other Elmendorf airmen when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle. The truck was the first in a convoy along a planned route, said Col. Michael Snodgrass, commander of the 3rd Wing, who was also present at the interview Wednesday. Melissa said her husband was a gunner on a U.S. Army convoy. Gunners often stand or sit on the outside of the vehicle, but exactly where Michael was positioned when the bomb went off near his five-ton truck was not available. Airman 1st Class Carl L. Anderson, 21, from Georgetown, S.C., the driver of the truck, was killed in the explosion. Airman 1st Class Jacob Sutton suffered minor injuries and later returned to work. Michael, from Morgantown, W. Va., suffered a fractured arm, shrapnel wounds on all of his limbs and an abrasion to his eye, officials said Tuesday. The Helmicks have been stationed at Elmendorf since November 2003. Melissa said she talked to her husband by telephone after his surgery Sunday. He was highly sedated, she said. "He knew it was me," she said, fighting back tears. "I let him know I'd be seeing him soon." Anderson was the first member of the military based in Alaska to die in Iraq or Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasions of those countries, officials said. He, Michael and Sutton are all part of the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Elmendorf, which has about 450 people total, trained in transportation-related jobs such as vehicle maintenance, shipping and fuel storage. All three men were in vehicle operations, officials said. Unlike most people Elmendorf has sent to Iraq, Michael, Sutton, Anderson and about 15 others from their squadron did not go to there to help with Air Force operations. They went to fill positions in their field on which the Army was short. "It is not at all uncommon for us to support each other," said Tech. Sgt. Theo McNamara, an Elmendorf spokesman. The airmen got several weeks of training by the Army in Texas before heading to Iraq, he said. Melissa said her husband was not excited about his assignment but that his feeling before leaving was that they needed him, so he was ready. She described her husband as a quiet guy who would "do anything for anybody." The couple talked about the dangers of the job, but still they seemed remote, Melissa said. "I didn't think it was going to happen to us," she said. Many people on base have called or dropped by since Sunday, Melissa said. "Everyone has been there for me." Melissa said she last saw her husband June 5, when he went to Texas for training. Michael arrived in Iraq in late July, she said. On Wednesday morning, the two spoke for a second time since the bombing. Melissa said she didn't talk to her husband about Anderson's death but said she knows he learned about it when he got out of surgery. The two men had worked different shifts at Elmendorf but became close while serving together in Iraq, she said. Officials said Michael would be flown out of Germany in the next few days. From there, he may undergo treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., or at the hospital at Elmendorf, officials said. Melissa plans to see her husband at whichever hospital he is sent too as soon as possible. "He's looking forward to seeing some familiar faces," she said.


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