The war in Iraq was such hell for Bronx soldier Jonathan Aponte he decided he'd never go back again - no matter what.
"I have nightmares all the time. I hear people screaming, gunshots, explosions, and I can smell burning flesh in my dreams," the 20-year-old told the Daily News yesterday as he fought back tears.
Rather than endure another tour of trauma, authorities say, Aponte hired a hit man to shoot him in the leg so he could stay home.
Aponte, his wife, Alexandra Gonzalez, 22, and the alleged shooter, Felix Padilla, were arrested and charged in the conspiracy. All face serious jail time.
The tall and handsome Aponte, who's on leave after 10 months in Iraq, said, "I was not going back one way or another. Some people can handle it mentally, but some can't. You have to know when to say enough is enough."
Cops say Padilla took $500 and put a slug in Aponte's leg at the corner of Bronx Blvd. and E. Gun Hill Road on Monday - the day Aponte was due to be redeployed to Iraq.
"I was desperate to stay home and at the end of my rope," Aponte said. "I couldn't deal with being in Iraq anymore. Would I risk going to prison? As far as being shot at, I think it's better."
Aponte believes the U.S. is losing the war and urged President Bush to bring "everyone back ASAP."
He said victory was virtually impossible when "we don't know who the enemy is. In Iraq, the enemy is dressed in street clothes, or they're pregnant ladies and sometimes even 8-year-olds with machine guns."
The ever-present death and destruction, he said, takes its toll on all soldiers.
On his first day of combat Aponte said a female sergeant killed herself in the middle of chow hall, an image he can't get out of his mind.
"She locked, loaded and shot herself in the head," he recalled. "I also saw people being shot and being blown up. I was shot at more than once by Iraqi insurgents. Being in Iraq was like something out of a movie. I was horrified to be there."
Aponte's mother, Gwen, said her son is a "shell of the man" he was before he went to Iraq.
"It's heartbreaking, and I cry for my son all the time," she said. "The death and destruction he was exposed to in Iraq has changed him."
Aponte's lawyer Marty Goldberg said he has spoken to military officials and they have promised to help Aponte when he returns to court in September.
"This is an American soldier who fought on the front line for his country," Goldberg said. "Now he needs compassion and treatment for posttraumatic stress. He's as much a casualty of war as someone who's been hit by a bullet."
Aponte and his wife were charged with conspiracy and falsely reporting an incident.
Gonzalez was hit with additional charges - assault, conspiracy and harassment. She faces a stiffer sentence than her husband, up to 25 years behind bars. Padilla also was charged with assault and possession of a weapon.
Police said Aponte's alleged plan began to unravel when cops started questioning his wife while he was being treated by doctors Monday.
Cops said Aponte later confessed, telling them, "I smoked a cigarette and kept my eyes closed because I did not want to see it coming. Next thing I know, I was shot in the knee."
The trouble with the law apparently also has taken its toll on Aponte's 10-day marriage to Gonzalez.
The couple is considering getting an annulment.
Cite: G.I. in shoot scam: better shot in Bronx than in Baghdad
BY CHRISENA COLEMAN
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER Sunday, July 15th 2007, 1:43 AM