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Fuel Convoy Leader for Haliburton, taken captive by Iraqi insurgents; held from April 9 to May 2, 2004
Mississippi dairy farmer
Married to Kellie
Father of two children: Thomas, 14, and Tori, 12
Thomas Hamill was taken captive on Good Friday, April 9, 2004, while serving as a truck convoy commander for Haliburton delivering fuel to U.S. forces at the Baghdad airport. Thomas’ convoy, accompanied by military escort, came under intense gunfire along their way. As five of his drivers and two soldiers were killed in their trucks, and the tanker trucks were sprayed with gunfire, the threat of a huge fuel explosion increased.
When he saw that a truck not part of the convoy was on fire just ahead of them, Thomas knew that this was a strategically planned attack. Forced to choose between driving his hemorrhaging truck toward the flames or running through the gunfire, Thomas and another man opted to run.
But first Thomas would use his laptop computer to communicate his location and call for help. Before he could send his message, Thomas felt a powerful slam into his right arm. He was shot, and a huge piece of his arm was missing. Blood poured out over the laptop computer that was his only communication link to help. Thomas left his truck.
Remembering his training on what to do in a gunfight, Thomas dropped to the ground and tried to crawl to nearby buildings. But his right arm, now wound in a pair of socks to stop the bleeding, was useless. As he tried to move to safety, he realized a young Iraqi boy was pointing at him and shouting frantically.
Quickly, one of the gunmen came and captured him. A small car soon pulled up, and Thomas was taken to an undisclosed location. His captivity had officially begun.
Mission to Iraq
Thomas had been raised on the family farm in Noxubee County, Miss. He drove a truck and worked multiple jobs to augment the family income. He made long distance freight runs while he continued to manage his dairy herd. He went to Iraq in 2003 for two reasons -- to support his country, and to earn enough money to save his farm.
In February 2004, after he’d been in Iraq about six months, another pressing financial need came up back home. His wife, Kellie, was having severe heart irregularities that could only be treated with costly surgery. Thomas flew home to be with Kellie as she underwent the dangerous procedures.
While Thomas was home, he met with the new pastor at his family’s church. Thomas had begun to trust God more and more as a result of his time in Iraq. His aunt had given him a Bible to take along, and his wife and family prayed faithfully that his faith would grow and that he would be safe. Thomas told the pastor of how he was convicted to return to God and live a better life.
While a prisoner, Hamill evaluated his spiritual life and says that he realized something: "I had left God somewhere over the years ... but I felt His presence with me. I knew He wasn't going to let me die in Iraq." Thomas had regular conversations with God. As each new ordeal unfolded, he would tell God that it was God who was in charge. Thomas prayed for protection over the food he was given in case it was poisoned. He told another prisoner how he was trusting God to return him to his family. He constantly repeated the 23rd Psalm to calm his nerves: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...".
Though his treatment was civil, Thomas was often hungry and dehydrated, and he could smell his right arm rotting off the bone. His captors moved him often. Because he had been in Iraq as a driver, Thomas continually hoped to glimpse something of his surroundings that would let him know his exact location. His captors did bring in a surgeon to help bandage his arm and give him antibiotics. An 80-year-old Iraqi woman came to pray for him.
Then the news of the Abu Graib prisoner abuse broke and Thomas’ circumstances
“That night, they came in and shackled my hands,” he says, “and they shackled my legs with dog chains.”
Deliverance at Hand
On the twenty-third day, Thomas heard a sound he recognized. He heard the sound of approaching troops. Mustering all his strength and courage, he charged out of the mud hut where he’d been held. He didn’t know where his guards were or if he might be killed in his attempt. Once in sight of the troops, he began waving his shirt over his head and yelling, “I’m an American, I’m an American, I’m an American POW!”
The astonished New York National Guard unit gathered up the fuel convoy leader and carried him to safety. Apparently when the troops approached about 40 strong, the lone guard watching Thomas feared for his own life and ran. Thomas was free at last. The date was May 2, 2004.
Bruised but Not Broken
Thomas was flown to Germany for medical treatment and to be rejoined with his relieved family. He received a surprise visit from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who happened to be visiting troops in Germany.
Since returning home, he has undergone several surgeries on his arm. At least one more skin graft and physical therapy will be required before he can consider returning to work for Haliburton. "They've said I can stay [in Macon] and work if I want to," he says. "I wouldn't mind going back [to Iraq].” Thomas is proud of the work he did in Iraq. Serving the troops in this way is important to him.
Now They Can Laugh About It
Thomas and Kellie can even laugh now about some things that happened during the ordeal. "When I went to Germany to meet him, they let us stay at the Fisher House on a medical base," Kellie says. "It's sort of like a Ronald McDonald House ... it's there for families that need a place to stay for a few days. I fixed him a ribeye steak, baked potato, and salad. When he looked at the salad, he said, 'I think I'm going to take these out.' " He laid sliced cucumbers and tomatoes to the side. Kellie had no idea cucumbers and tomatoes were about all he was given to eat while captured.
Kellie sums up what her husband went through this way: "He used to be really quiet," she says. "But now he doesn't have an 'off' button -- not when it comes to talking about the Lord. And I'm glad of that."
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