A second life
Capt. Charles Bailey, of the 66th MI Brigade, received the Lt. Gen. Sidney T. Weinstein Award for Excellence in Military Intelligence during a ceremony at Fort Huachuca, June 24, 2010. (courtesy photo)
As an infantry officer, Capt. Charles Bailey was a part of a reconnaissance mission in a busy neighborhood in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2006.
Because he was the platoon leader, Bailey was peeking out of the hatch of a Stryker vehicle when a four-door sedan raced up next to his vehicle and quickly detonated before Bailey had a chance to take cover.
“Personally, everything went quiet,” he said. “I went to sleep for a few seconds. I woke up on top of the vehicle and it’s weird to say, but it was an oddly peaceful moment.
“Fortunately, the Stryker took 99 percent of the blow,” Bailey continued. “The wounds I received were a result of the shrapnel that came flying over the vehicle, but it would have been a lot worse if not for the vehicle taking the brunt of the damage.”
Bailey did what he referred to as a quick “digit check” making sure all 10 fingers and toes were still there and had a full range of motion. Thankfully, everything was okay on both fronts.
“I couldn’t see anything, but fortunately there was no pain associated with anything,” Bailey said. “At that point, I started to slowly slide back down into the hatch of the Stryker. The first thing I heard was the screams of one of our Soldiers who had lost a portion of his hand. But while that was going on, I could also hear the direction of the leaders in that squad. What made it so peaceful in a moment of such chaos was that they were doing everything right. I could hear that amidst everything, they had complete control of the situation.”
While he was still unable to see, Bailey was at least able to take comfort in the fact that he was in good hands. At that point, he sat down on a bench in the vehicle until a fellow Soldier was able to come over and assess the situation.
“One of my Soldiers saw me, and of course he saw a lot of blood,” Bailey said. “I had a large piece of shrapnel sticking out of my eye, which is sort of an unpleasant description, I guess. So he told me to stay there while they got me medical assistance.”
Within minutes, Bailey was being medically evacuated from the scene of the incident. After a stopover in Germany, Bailey arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“I lost my left eye and was diagnosed with moderate traumatic brain injury,” Bailey said. “But like I tell my friends, fortunately I’m no dumber than I was before all of this. Thankfully, the shrapnel didn’t penetrate the brain matter. It was fractions of an inch away. I feel completely blessed to be where I am today.”
After recuperating from those injuries, Bailey wanted to remain in the Army, but was no longer able to remain in the infantry, so he transferred to the military intelligence branch.
And while military intelligence might not have been Bailey’s first choice, he made the most it – dedicating himself to his new career path and fully embracing a completely new role in the Army.
So much so that by the time Bailey had completed his first assignment in the MI community, he had received the Lt. Gen. Sidney T. Weinstein Award for Excellence in Military Intelligence during a ceremony at Fort Huachuca, June 24, 2010.
Bailey, a company commander with the 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 66th MI Brigade, beat out more than 20 other candidates to take home the Weinstein award.
“The decision was difficult, but Bailey epitomizes what a company-grade officer in the intelligence community is expected to emulate,” said Maj. Gen. John Custer, commander of the Intelligence Center of Excellence, during the ceremony.
Because of how familiar he was with the background of the award’s namesake, Bailey said he was humbled to receive the Weinstein Award.
“He was considered a pioneer of his time,” said Bailey of Weinstein, who has been referred to as the father of modern military intelligence. “He was known for thinking outside of the box and a lot of what we do now, and the successes we’ve had in the military intelligence community in Iraq and Afghanistan are because of that mindset. You can’t always work within the traditional mainframe. You’ve got to be forward thinking and you’ve got to see things from multiple perspectives.”
While Bailey was honored to receive the Weinstein award, he admitted that even after being informed that his chain of command had submitted him for the award, he never really thought he had a chance to actually win it.
“Truthfully, I don’t feel like I did anything special,” Bailey said. “I just listened to the personnel that I was surrounded by at the 66th. Let’s face it – no one mind is going to figure it all out. Being able to resource the personnel I had the pleasure of working with every day and listening to their ideas on ways to make the organization more successful I think is what ultimately made the difference for me.”
As simplistic as it may sound, not everyone in the military is willing or able to admit they don’t have all of the answers. Something as simple as seeking out input from others or a willingness to delegate responsibilities can be the difference between a good leader and a great one, Bailey said.
“If I had to attribute any particular aspect of who I am as a leader, and the success I’ve been able to have in this position, it’s in no small part because of the vast experience and knowledge of the people I’ve been surrounded with,” he said. “Even dating back to when I was a platoon leader, I was surrounded by squad leaders and platoon sergeants who have 10 or more years in service. Who am I to come in and act as if I have all of the answers?”
It’s impossible to know exactly how someone will handle going through such a traumatic experience as Bailey did in Iraq. But while some people might want to second guess their career choice and find something new to do with their life, Bailey is proud to say that thought never even crossed his mind.
“If anything, it solidified my commitment to the Army – what we’re doing and what we’re about,” he said. “It gave me a true realization of who we’re fighting and what we’re fighting for.
“As far as my perspective goes – not many of us get two shots at life,” Bailey continued. “If there’s been any perspective change, it comes from making sure I enjoy every day I have with my loved ones. This experience solidified my commitment to my family as much as it has to the military and to the fight.”
These days, Bailey happily spends every free minute he has with his wife Jennifer and their four children.
“You realize what you have and you learn to value that time you have with loved ones even more,” he said. “A lot of folks don’t realize what they’re blessed with. I try to instill that to as many folks as I can. If nothing else, this entire experience showed me that you just never know. Military or not, people should be thankful for what they’ve got. I know I am.”