Sunday, January 5, 2014

This video about airlifting casualties out of Afghanistan was posted which is an awesome story, but doesn't do the men and women who fly these missions and take care of their passengers justice.  It also got me thinking about an experience I had with a US Army soldier airlifted out of Iraq after being wounded and the incredible efforts of the US military health care system and this soldiers even more incredible story.

Date: 4 July 2007
Place: Bethesda National Naval Medical Center

I was scheduled for surgery that morning at 7 am... sometime during the night prior to that I was informed that my surgery was being delayed for another case. (Of course now you wonder why was I having surgery on the 4th of Jul - well that's another story for another blog posting - gotta keep you coming back, right.) Given I was out of it and had no clue about time it didn't bother me at all and eventually I had my surgery and wound up being admitted to ICU along with the Soldier who bumped me. We both spent about 5 days there before being transferred up to the 5th floor where most of the marines and soldiers who were recovering from their wounds along with a few of us retirees, resided. While in ICU my now ex-wife and this Soldier's wife got together and talked and prayed with the Chaplain for our recovery and she told me I should talk to him.

I wish I could remember his name but he was a Staff Sergeant (SSG) from Ft. Bragg where he was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. His story is one that confirmed my faith in the ability and intelligence of our troops, that we as a military will take care of our people and that the medical personnel of the US military and at Bethesda in particular are the best in the world.

So one day about 2 weeks after my surgery, I hopped into my super duper souped up government issue wheelchair and rolled myself down to his room. As I entered he looked up from the book he was reading and greeted me with a smile, saying "I hear we shared ICU and our wives got to know each other."

I asked what he was reading to which he replied Shakespeare. The look on my face must have said an Army Grunt reading Shakespeare? because he went on to say that he loved the intrigue of his plays.  

Our conversation continued along the path of introductions, where we were from, and finally got around to why were here.

Following an IED incident he was performing perimeter control and ensuring the crowd of Iraqi's stayed away from the scene when a scuffle broke out. He turned to observe and from behind an Iraqi took a knife and stuck into his head under the helmet. He turned and knocked the attacker to the ground and put his rifle in the guys face as his fellow soldiers came to his aid and moved the crowd further back.

I asked him what did he do then.... his response is one detail that is crystal clear and will remain with me always.

"I had my rifle in his face, wanting to pull the trigger. But I knew if I did I'd be committing murder and didn't think I could live with myself. So I didn't pull it. Even though I was justified under the rules of engagement (ROE), I just couldn't do it."

I thought wow... here is with a knife sticking out of his head, his adrenaline at 1000% and he can think this through - what an incredible person. And one lucky Iraqi.

The medics arrived and he was helo evac'd to Baghdad with the knife still stuck into his head. The docs there put him on an emergency non-stop C-17 medivac flight to Andrews AFB so he could have surgery at Bethesda. Less than 20 hrs after being stabbed he was back in the US having that knife removed.

As he and I continued to talk you could tell there was some brain damage but I learned later from the docs they didn't know if it was permanent or not and it was so slight it wouldn't be a major impact on his life. But he was dead set on returning to his unit and doing crazy things like jumping out of perfectly good aeroplanes.

This man was and still is incredible - a model solider and American hero.  

Where ever you are today - I hope you have achieved your dreams (even if they are a bit crazy)... and Thank You for your Inspiration.

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