Bass says training took over in shootout

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2006

We can't print what John Bass thought when a bullet tore through his forearm muscle on a cold January night at a Greenville hotel.

What Bass thought was raw and explicit. A curse word. But it was a gut reaction to a visceral situation. The upper part of John Bass's forearm had just exploded.

More shots. More yells. More swears.

John Bass staggered out of the Comfort Inn carrying his gun. The ligaments in his arm had stopped working, locking his fingers around the grip of the firearm.

Then, the adrenaline subsided. Then, the winter air sliced painfully through his open, bleeding forearm, so painfully that John Bass said he became lightheaded and faint. Then, his hand finally opened well enough for the gun to drop.

&#8220I've been shot,” he radioed 9-11. &#8220Get me help.”

John Bass lay down on the pavement, leaving a trail of blood across the white hood of his patrol car and thought of his 3-year-old daughter.

And when they pulled him to safety, into an ambulance for treatment, John Bass - Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom; John Bass, who watched a friend explode after getting hit dead center by a rocket in the desert; John Bass who made a commitment to God to serve his country and his fellow man when he was 19 year's old - was ready to go back inside the hotel and finish the job.

&#8220I'm a soldier,” he said. &#8220They teach you in the academy that those who want to survive, will survive. I was ready to go back in.”

Born in Lowndes County, Bass said March 4, 1998 was the day he talked to God and decided to follow his dream of being a solider and a police officer.

&#8220I was 19 and I didn't want to go to college,” he said. &#8220I wanted to go off and learn some things and see the world. I wanted to feel what it was like to be a well-rounded man.”

Bass said he visited the Marines first, but the Corps expressed little interest. So he went to the Army.

&#8220I told my recruiter the only way I would join the Army was if they gave me the hardest job I could get,” he said.

The Army delivered. Bass was assigned to the 82nd Airborne upon completion of his parachute training and was subsequently deployed to Kosovo, where a freak accident ended his deployment hardly before it had begun. Bass said he was charging off the ramp of a helicopter, stepped the wrong way, and tore ligaments in his knee. For a week he said nothing, helping his fellow soldiers construct bomb bunkers out of rocks by hand. Finally, in a rock quarry, he collapsed.

&#8220They told me I was doneŠthat they'd watched me drive on without saying anything, but it was time for me to get some help,” he said.

He was sent to an aid station and on to Germany for medical help. He recovered and was medically discharged in June 2000.

He came back to the United States and worked as a security chief for hotels in North Carolina. He returned to Alabama and, after a brief stint in construction, became a deputy with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office. He took his oath on Sept. 11, 2001.

&#8220I saw both planes hit,” he said.

He was ready to go to war again.

Bass said when Operation Iraqi Freedom started in 2003, the Army called and wanted him back in uniform. He was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division at Ft. Hood, Tex. He spent a year training for battle conditions in Iraq before his unit left for overseas duty.

He said the fighting never stopped.

Some of the heaviest combat occurred in August 2004 during the Battle of Najaf. Bass helped spearhead an assault into the city, fighting the Muqtada Sadr militia.

A commendation Bass received states:

&#8220Specialist Bass aggressively engaged in his duties, always maintained the tactical advantage and only fell back out of political necessityŠ”

Bass said &#8220political necessity” is a term used to describe how insurgents utilized holy Muslim shrines as protection from coalition forces. U.S. soldiers were under strict orders not to fire upon shrines, even as rebels actively engaged Americans in combat from their vicinity.

&#8220If we'd shot back it would have basically started a holy war,” Bass said.

At one point, Bass said he spent 67 straight hours in the city of Najaf in constant contact with the enemy.

He said he was grazed by bullets while in Iraq, but it was nothing serious.

&#8220It still stings, though,” he said.

He returned to the United States for the second time and started work with the Greenville Police Department in August 2005.

On the night of Jan. 14, Bass, along with Officer Lionel Davidson and Officer Byron Russell, were called to the Comfort Inn to confront reports of a man stalking the first floor of the hotel carrying a gun. Bass said he and Davidson consulted with the desk clerk on duty that night and went to the suspect's room, 115, on the ground floor.

Bass said he and Davidson took positions on either side of door.

He knocked.

&#8220I told him this was the Greenville police and we needed him to open up,” he said.

Bass said the man replied, &#8220they're going to kill me.”

Davidson left and returned with the passkey, said Bass. Bass said while Davidson was gone, he could hear the suspect, later identified as Wayne Vasquez by investigators, &#8220playing” with something behind the door.

After reaching across to take the key from Davidson, the door swung inward and Vasquez opened fire. Davidson was struck first and Bass said he swiveled to fire his weapon as Russell, behind him, also started firing.

He said in the military, Army shooters are taught to fire &#8220center-mass” on a subject.

&#8220My training took over,” he said.

He said he doesn't know how many shots he fired, but he was then forced to fall back after being shot in the arm. Later that night, he was flown to Mobile for treatment while Greenville's tactical team entered the hotel to find Vasquez dead.

The bullet that ripped apart the muscles of his forearm is still inside in body, near his shoulder. He said he still has problems with the grip in his right hand, although he continues to attend regular rehabilitation sessions. Because of the severity of the injury and the nerve damage, doctors have put off removing the bullet.

Bass said he's ready to return to patrolling the city with his fellow officers on second-shift.

&#8220We're pretty close,” he said. &#8220We've got a lot of camaraderie. Lt. (Marcus) Christianson and Sgt. (Dwight) HudsonŠI couldn't ask for two better men to have over us.”

He said the gunshot wound is proof he's willing to sacrifice himself for his fellow man.

&#8220I'm going to do everything to the best of my ability to protect the people of the Greenville,” he said.