[caption id="attachment_3826" align="alignleft" width="277"] Five years after an improvised explosive device in Iraq put him in a coma for 11 days, Capt. Fred Babauta heads the Army World Class Athlete Program. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps.[/caption] FORT CARSON, Colo. The Fourth of July is especially significant to Army Capt. Fred Babauta, as this Independence Day marks the fifth anniversary of his awakening from an 11-day coma following an improvised explosive device attack in Ramadi, Iraq.
Babauta, now commander of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, was rushed to Balad Air Base in Iraq and transported via Landstuhl, Germany, to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, before he realized that he was alive. Army officials ensured that his wife arrived from Guam, and his parents from the state of Washington, in time to see their Soldier awaken."They all met me in San Antonio when I arrived," Babauta recalled. "Of course, I didn't know they were there because I was in a coma, but the Army took care of my family." Babauta remembers his last battle mission as if it happened yesterday. In June 2005, he was deployed to Ramadi with the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Brigade. "We were the brigade of [2nd Infantry Division] that deployed from Korea to Iraq," he said. "About two weeks out from us leaving country, I was walking by an IED and it went off. I was probably about 10 feet away." Babauta had served in Iraq for nearly a year before taking the one step that burned his entire face, stole the vision from his right eye and nearly took his life. "After the explosion went off, they got me into a courtyard and called [a] quick-reaction force to come pick us up," Babauta said. "I was out with a sniper team, and there were only five of us. QRF picked us up. They started out with five vehicles to pick us up, and they ended up only with two." The other three encountered more IEDs. "The two vehicles finally picked us up," Babauta continued. "We piled in the back, and they drove us back to our outpost. The doctor gave me a shot of morphine, packaged me up, the bird landed right outside our outpost, and they loaded me up." At that point, Babauta thought he was headed to Al Taqaddum Air Base. The severity of his injuries, however, called for treatment at Balad Air Base. "I remember them unloading me off the helicopter in Balad," he said. "It sounded like they pulled me into a hangar. I was on a stretcher and they put me on a bed. Doc said, 'Hey, I'm Doc so-and-so, I'm going to put this over your face,' which I guess was an oxygen mask, 'and you're going to feel a real quick pinch in your arm.' I guess he gave me a shot, sort of put me under, and I woke up 11 days later in Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston. Eleven days later was July 4th of 2005. The rest of the trip is a blur to Babauta. "I think they repaired my jugular in Balad," he said. "From what I understand, it didn't rupture until I got to Balad. I guess it was just probably hanging on by a string, but luckily the timing was great." An avid Detroit Pistons fan, Babauta went on patrol earlier that day with visions of watching a replay of his beloved team taking on the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Finals upon return to camp. "This is what I was thinking," he recalled. "I was going to go out for 24 hours. Game 7 was going to already happen. Someone was going to record it so I could come back and watch the game. I don't know if you remember that series, but the Pistons were killing the Spurs, and the Spurs came back and it was tied up, 3-3. So I was thinking I was going to come back and watch Game 7. It was in San Antonio. So the Pistons ended up losing, and guess where I wake up? San Antonio. "That was the worst." In the long run, however, Babauta counts his lucky stars to be alive. On the night he came around, folks were launching rockets not only in Texas but across the nation. "It was amazing," he said. "The nurse asked me if I saw the fireworks outside my window. I didn't see any fireworks, but I guess there was a fireworks celebration that night when I woke up." Born in Okinawa, Japan, Babauta was an Army brat who spent most of his childhood in Guam. He also lived on Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Davis, Panama, and Fort Stewart, Ga. At age 22, he left the University of Guam, got married and reported to the 1st Ranger Battalion in Savannah, Ga. All of the men in Babauta's family served in the Army. His younger brother, Danny, 32, is deployed. His two older brothers both served four years before becoming policemen. Babauta, 38, is the proud father of three daughters. "In my house, my girls, they have to play a sport," he said. "They've got to do something. My oldest grew up playing soccer, and she's actually on a soccer scholarship to Winthrop University. She just finished her freshman year. The other two play volleyball." Instead of leading troops on the battlefield, Babauta now leads Soldiers to international and national-level athletic events while commanding the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. "It might be in a different context," he said, "but I think the principle is the same, as far as getting ready to go. They're going to war. They're going to meet someone on the mat that wants to beat them. So they've got to do everything now to be ready for that match in Council Bluffs. I would imagine everyone here can use that comparison. It's not as life-threatening as deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq, but I think there are a lot of similarities. Babauta takes great pride in the AWCAP, working constantly to increase awareness of the program. "Everyone knows a Ranger," he said. We're trying to push hard so that everyone knows the World Class Athlete Program. We're making good strides. We just need to continue." July 04, 2010: Written by Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command