"Black Sunday" survivors remember, honor fallen comrades with National Geo. mini-series

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On April 4, 2004, Sgt. Eric Bourquin and Sgt. Aaron Fowler had just begun a 12-month deployment with Fort Hood’s First Cavalry Division. They were in Sadr City, Iraq.  

At the time, the city was considered one of the safest places in that country.

“We were over there to help the people or Iraq and to provide security,” Bourquin said.

But on that day, their mission changed.

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“As we were going on our patrols things started getting weird. Streets started getting empty and we noticed no on was around,” Bourquin recalled.

Minutes later, the day earned a new name – Black Sunday.

“We started receiving fire and that’s when the ambush happened," Bourquin said. "I was in disbelief. We were trying to figure out if this was really going on, if people were really shooting at us."

Disbelief became tragedy when Sgt. Eddie Chen was hit. He’d been the gunner in a Humvee with Bourquin’s group.

Back at the base camp, Sgt. Aaron Fowler listened on the radio as Bourquin’s platoon came under fire.

“Everybody just started putting on gear, grabbing weapons, throwing food away and looking for who was going to give us a ride out,” Fowler said.

Since they were on a peace keeping mission, most of the 1st Cav’s equipment lacked battle protection. So instead of armored Humvees, soldiers headed out in cargo trucks with little protection between them and the enemy.

“We were in a pretty tight convoy. Everybody’s keyed up and we know that there’s contact. But, we don’t know how many enemy there are,” Fowler said.

As medics worked to save Chen’s life, Bourquin and his fellow soldiers fought their way to a Sadr City home so everyone could take cover.

Fowler and the rescue teams were in unfamiliar territory, riding through a city they didn’t know. 

Then, the hail of gunfire began.

“We were packed in like sardines in the back of the LMTV and we started taking causalities pretty quickly,” Fowler said.

Fowler’s group needed help.

“Everybody on my truck had been shot at least once except for I think the driver,” Fowler said. 

Fowler was shot three times.

As Fowler headed for medical treatment, Bourquin’s team was rescued.

By the end of the day, Eddie Chen and seven other men were dead. More than 60 others were injured, but somehow, Bourquin as never hurt.

Thirteen years later, Black Sunday still weighs heavy on these veteran’s minds.

“The only reason I’m standing here today is eight other people are dead,” Bourquin said. “I know the smell of a newborn baby. I’ve experienced the highs and lows of life. I’ve been married for multiple years, got four children, I’ve known success and known defeat. Those eight guys will never get to know that and that’s what reminds me and keeps me going.”