Keith Preston

U.S. Army Pfc. Keith Preston, a Frostburg resident serving with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Iraq, narrowly missed being hit with shrapnel when he moved from the driver's seat on a bus to look for a pen.

FROSTBURG - U.S. Army Pfc. Keith Preston escaped serious injury earlier this month when mortar fire hit the bus that he drives at a U.S. military base in Mozul near the Tigres River in Iraq.

The bus, used to transport Iraqi workers, was empty of passengers and parked as Preston was sitting in the driver's seat waiting for one of his buddies to come out from a building on the base.

Preston, of Frostburg, decided to write a letter to his wife while he was waiting, but didn't have a pen, so he got down between the seats of the bus thinking he might find one.

Just then the enemy fire struck the bus.

"Had he been sitting in that driver's seat for just a few seconds longer, he probably wouldn't be here today," said Preston's wife, Corrie, a resident of Eckhart.

"It actually destroyed the bus. They can't drive it anymore - blew the whole windows out of the bus," said Keith's mother, Shelley Preston of Frostburg.

"If he had been sitting up, he would have had shrapnel in his head.

"He and his friend just started laughing. I guess it was shock."

Both women said the fact that Keith was writing a letter was very unusual.

"Now this is weird, because my son doesn't write," said Shelley.

"No. 1, Keith doesn't like to write, and No. 2, the mailroom is closed, so I wouldn't get it until he got back to the States anyway," said Corrie Preston.

Shelley Preston explained that Keith was helping to close down that base, which, according to Corrie Preston, was called Forward Operating Base Courage.

"There's no mail and no phone calls now," his mother said. "He was lucky to get a call out to his wife. He called and said he was hit but he was OK."

"I got the call 18 hours after it happened and his ears were still ringing from the blast," said Corrie Preston. "Miraculously, he walked off the bus with some minor scrapes around his face and ears and minor burns on his hands.

"He looked up and saw a piece of shrapnel had gone through the driver's seat through the windshield.

"He had a guardian angel with him on the bus that day ... we have both said that. I'm not sure that the full reality of what happened has hit me yet," Corrie Preston said.

She got Keith's phone call in the middle of the night.

"The first words out of his mouth were, 'You saved my life. Thank you.' I didn't know what to say except, 'What happened?' That's when he told me the story."

Corrie and Keith both graduated from Beall High School in 2002, although they really didn't get together until he went into the Army.

"I got a phone call six weeks to the day before the wedding and we got married when he was home," said Corrie Preston.

"They never got to live together, they got married five days before he went back," said Shelley Preston.

"She's going to go back to Alaska with him. They got married so they could get housing together."

"This has been a very difficult thing for me to talk about. One of our worst fears came a little too close for comfort. We've been married for 3 1/2 months and I can't even fathom the thought of losing him," said Corrie Preston.

Keith Preston is serving with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Alison Bunting can be reached at abunting@times-news.com.

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