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Mom prays for hurt soldiers survival
East Hall grad, 24, critically injured in Iraq
Carolyn and Wayne Bagwell hold up a prayer cloth they use when praying for their son Nathon Bagwell, who was injured in Iraq. - photo by Ashley Fielding

GILLSVILLE — Carolyn Bagwell never wanted her son to join the military, but Nathon Bagwell, 24, joined the Army last September before his mother had the chance to talk him out of it.

Today, her son lies in a hospital bed in Germany, critically wounded from a sniper’s gun, and Carolyn Bagwell has about as much control over her son’s recovery as she had over his decision to join the Army.

Pvt. Nathon Bagwell, a 2003 graduate from East Hall High School, was working in Sadr City, Iraq, when a sniper shot him in the left side of his abdomen. The bullet ripped through Bagwell’s bowels, damaged his kidneys and shattered a vertebrae in his lower back. Doctors are still not sure whether the wound means paralysis for Carolyn and Wayne Bagwell’s oldest son.

It was not until late Monday afternoon that the Bagwell family knew Nathon Bagwell was suffering and his mother’s fears had been realized.

Until about 5 p.m., Monday had been a relatively normal day. On his way home from the doctor’s office,
Wayne Bagwell picked up a few packs of his son’s favorite Skoal — the kind in pouches — to send in one of the near-weekly packages the family mails to their soldier during his 15-month tour in Iraq.

Even when the phone rang, and the voice on other end was that of Capt. Scott Weeman, a commanding officer at Pvt. Bagwell’s base in Fort Carlton, Colo., Carolyn Bagwell still did not think anything was out of the ordinary.

"It really didn’t surprise me, because we’re all the time getting mail from Colorado Springs, giving you information if you need help, giving you numbers to call ... I just assumed they was calling to check and see if there was anything they could do for, you know, the family," Carolyn Bagwell recalled Wednesday morning.

But when Weeman asked Carolyn Bagwell if she had been in contact with the Army that day, she immediately asked if her son was OK.

He was not.

Nathon Bagwell had been the only U.S. soldier shot when his unit was constructing barriers outside of a secured area, Weeman told The Times Wednesday.

It was the main reason Carolyn Bagwell had been trying to talk her son out of joining the military when the events of Sept. 11, 2001, gave him the desire to join.

"Not that I think the military is a bad thing, I just don’t want it for my child," the weary mother said Wednesday. "I mean, you know things like this happen, but you just don’t want your child to be put in harm’s way, and I was selfish."

But Nathon Bagwell, who had been in Iraq since Dec. 1, came home unharmed for his midtour leave last month, and his mother had no qualms about taking him back to the airport on March 26 — his 24th birthday — because she felt he was making a difference.

Her initial fears were realized with Weeman’s phone call.

"I never imagined that. ... It’s just something you don’t prepare yourself for," Carolyn Bagwell said.

Nathon Bagwell had already survived one surgery on his intestines in Baghdad and was waiting for a flight to a hospital in Germany for another one by the time Weeman was able to get into contact with the Bagwell family.

The next morning, Army officials called with news that Nathon Bagwell was stable enough to fly to Germany and was waiting on the tarmac for the next flight out.

A sandstorm kept him from making the trip for another five hours, and later that day, Bagwell was in surgery again — that time for his kidneys.

The Army gave the family a toll-free number to call for updates on their son’s condition, and promised to fly three of the Bagwells to Germany if they "felt like we needed to be by his side." Otherwise, the family could meet their son at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., this weekend after his condition stabilizes from yet another surgery scheduled for 2 a.m. today when doctors will replace Bagwell’s shattered vertebrae with a steel rod.

"I’m glad I didn’t get the call to say ‘you need to come to Germany,’ so I’m perfectly content waiting right here until he gets stateside, because if I was over there he would be in a whole lot worse shape than I know he is," Carolyn Bagwell said.

The mother has been "camped out by the telephone" ever since she received the first call from Weeman, making sure she gets at least four updates on her son a day.

Carolyn Bagwell was able to speak to her son Wednesday morning. Nathon Bagwell told his mother he was in a lot of pain, but assured her that he was "OK."

Later that day, a nurse told Carolyn Bagwell that her son had eaten ice chips, but was sleeping at the time of his mother’s call.

"When he’s sleeping that means he’s not in pain, so I’d rather him be asleep," Carolyn Bagwell said.

The calls are short and provide the Bagwell family with drops of information that hardly quell the flood of questions mounting in their minds.

"I think (the Army) is probably giving me all the information they know, but it’s not enough for me," Carolyn Bagwell said. "...There’s not enough (information) for me until I see him, and that won’t be until he gets stateside."

Until their soldier makes it back home, all the family can do is wait and pray between phone calls that his "critical" wound does not end in tragedy.

"Wait and pray, that’s all you can do," said Carolyn Bagwell’s aunt, Mary Ann King. "There’s just nothing to do; it’s a lot of waiting."