US Soldier Still In Coma After Christmas-Day Drone Attack Left Shrapnel Lodged In His Brain

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. soldier injured in a Christmas Day attack by Iran-backed militias remains in a coma after taking shrapnel to the brain and will have a difficult road to recovery, friends said.

President Joe Biden ordered retaliatory airstrikes after the militant group launched a one-way attack drone at Erbil Airbase in Iraq, inflicting minor injuries to two American service members and rendering a third in critical condition. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Garrett Illerbrunn, who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, suffered shrapnel wounds penetrating the motor function of his brain and was flown to a military hospital in Germany, where he remains in a coma, a friend of the family confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation on Friday.

Illerbrunn’s “prognosis is unknown and ever-changing,” Melissa Young wrote in the preface to a GoFundMe she and other friends of the Illerbrunns organized to support, among other things, rehabilitation costs and retrofitting the family’s house with aids to help Garrett adapt to normal life. (RELATED: Sailors Aboard USS Carney Awarded For Downing 14 Houthi Drones)

During the drone attack, a piece of shrapnel struck Illerbrunn in the head, “lodging from about his temple to almost the back end of his ear” and penetrated the part of the brain that deals with motor function, Young wrote.

As of Tuesday, Illerbrunn was taken off sedation but did not emerge from his coma but could breathe on his own, Young wrote. His wife, Lorna Illerbrunn, is with him.

Young confirmed to the DCNF on Friday nothing had changed regarding Illerbrun’s condition.

“The family is in for an Ultra Marathon, not a 5k. So we are so thankful for your support! We always know the military and local community can rally but it’s never short of a miracle when you see it in person; we are so grateful,” Young wrote in the update.

Doctors had hoped Illerbrunn could be transferred to Walter Reed hospital near Washington, D.C., as soon as possible.

“There is no expectation. There is hope for next week, but that is not confirmed as his prognosis is ever-changing,” Young told the DCNF. She added that the medical faculty at Landstuhl have treated Lorna “like family.”

The Illerbrunns were involved in community service at their home in Pinehurst, North Dakota. “Their service, from our knowledge, is their true team effort to volunteer in our community,” Young said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum thanked Illerbrunn’s father, Brad, for the warrant officer and North Dakota native’s service in a Dec. 27 statement on social media.

Iran-backed militias launched an explosive-laden drone designed to detonate on impact at Erbil Air Base, which houses U.S. and partner forces assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.

The drone did not hit the base but “the strike caused damage to nearby infrastructure where US and Coalition forces work and live resulting in the multiple injuries,” a defense official told the DCNF.

“Following the attack, one service member was medically evacuated to Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center’s Role III Medical Facility. Once stabilized and treated for injuries, the patient was transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for follow-on medical care,” the defense official said.

The official referred the DCNF to Landstuhl Medical Center, the military’s largest hospital outside the U.S., for further information.

The medical facility did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, Landstul told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday that Illerbrunn arrived on Dec. 26 and was in stable condition.

Illerbrunn is a pilot serving as the Aviation Standardization Officer assigned to the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and had served in the unit since Sept. 2021, Lt. Col. Antony Clas, a spokesperson for the 82nd Airborne, told the DCNF in an email.

“The 82nd Airborne Division leadership has been involved every step of the way of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Garrett Illerbrunn’s recovery, coordinating movement and liaising with the family,” Clas said. “Our thoughts remain with his family, friends, and the unit.”

Lorna Illerbrunn and Tucker, the couple’s son, were visiting family for Christmas when they heard of the attack, according to the GoFundMe page.

The other two soldiers injured in the Dec. 25 attack have since returned to duty, the defense official told the DCNF.

U.S. military forces conducted “necessary and proportionate” strikes on multiple facilities used by Iran-backed militias in direct response to Dec. 25 attack by Iran-affiliated Kataib Hezbollah group, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

Kataib Hezbollah and another group, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, which is associated with Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, have planned and executed many of the roughly 120 attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, according to Pentagon statements.

On Thursday, a targeted U.S. airstrike killed Abu-Taqwa, an Al-Nujaba commander who was actively involved in the attacks, inciting anger among Iraq’s government. The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani on Friday threatened to terminate the U.S.-led coalition and expel all forces from the country permanently.

Al-Sudani previously called the attack a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and accused the U.S. of killing one Iraqi service member and wounding 18 people, including civilians, according to The Washington Post.

The U.S. maintains a presence of about 2,500 troops in Iraq to carry out an ongoing mission to defeat the Islamic State. Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder stressed Thursday those forces are in Iraq “at the invitation of the government of Iraq to help train and advise, in support of the Defeat ISIS mission.”

“And so as we have been doing all along, we will continue to consult closely with the Iraqi government about the safety and security of U.S. forces,” he added.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) put out a statement Friday thanking “legitimate security forces” in Iraq for their efforts to forestall future attacks.

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