A Path with Heart—Afghanistan, part 10

Freshly pinned with my CMB (Combat Medical Badge) on my left breast pouch at the Vehicle Patrol Base near Kudu Village. I'm standing by our MRAPs (Mine Resistant Armored Personnel Vehicles). Karam'r Mountain rises behind me.
Freshly pinned with my CMB (Combat Medical Badge) on my left breast pouch at the Vehicle Patrol Base near Kudu Village. I'm standing by our MRAPs (Mine Resistant Armored Personnel Vehicles). Karam'r Mountain rises behind me.

Good morning again, dear reader, from Can’t-tell-ya-where-I-am-istan: Where everyone means well, nobody smells bad, and the food—is to die for. This is the rest of the story from Mission 40 from part nine. These events continue on May 1, 2009, at perhaps 2045 hours.

2nd Platoon, D Company, was on QRF (Quick Reaction Force) back at our FOB and was spun up to evac Sfc. Craighead to the Battalion Aid Station at Headquarters FOB. We continued dressing wounds and monitoring vital signs. SFC Craighead was alert and oriented (joking about morphine), complaining about his left arm, lung sounds remained clear and vitals trended stable. I administered 4mg of Morphine IV as he smiled. We put him on a litter with a second IV of 500mL Normal Saline and covered him. His lung sounds were still clear. I had to make sure his lungs weren’t punctured, possibly causing a pneumothorax (the second-leading cause of preventable battlefield death). He was still alert and oriented. With more than 40 shrapnel wounds covering the front side of his body, and probably a broken left hand, he was still in pain, so I administered another 4mg of morphine. That did the trick. I estimate QRF arrived 15 minutes later. By that time, enemy weapons fire had quieted down.

With Sfc. Craighead evacuated, we turned our attention to other soldiers at the VPB; checking everyone for wounds they might have missed in all the excitement. Pfc. Koenck had a bullet graze his left pinky. Cpl. Meza had a bullet graze his right thigh. A few guys had scraped and banged-up knees from scrambling up into gun turrets. Lucky men, all. I climbed up into my truck to get a snack of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip cookies, and thanked the Lord Almighty out loud for not being injured. Then, Sgt. Lemay and I sat to drink water, chain smoke cigarettes and talk it out. I stood to get another bottle of water, and noticed discomfort on my right side. I looked at Lemay and said, “Ya know, not to be paranoid, but could you look at my side, I think I scratched myself on one of those cots I threw.”

Sgt. Lemay found an entrance wound that looked like a bullet wound. My breathing was fine, but I started to feel queasy and shocky from such dire news. I calmed myself down by watching my breathing. Second platoon came back to get me. The treatment team at the Battalion Aid Station found and removed a small piece of shrapnel from my side. My medic platoon sergeant, medic platoon leader, our physician’s assistant, my battalion command sergeant major and battalion executive officer were looking on. My lung sounds were clear, and they irrigated and closed my wound with a single suture. At 2010 hours on May 1, 2009, at Karam’r Ghar, I was the luckiest man in Afghanistan. Word was that Sfc. Craighead was stable, but he would take a couple months to heal. My battalion command sergeant major, Csm. Carabello, let me use his Blackberry to call my parents. Then, I was driven back to my guys at the VPB by 0030. I have never been so glad to see 3rd Platoon, D Co. 1-32 Infantry.

Why did my platoon sergeant get badly hit and not me? I was standing right there, too. How can I still be here after an RPG landed 11 feet from me? The small piece of shrapnel hit over a rib. A hit between ribs could have punctured my lung. I guess my work in this world isn’t done yet. Re-enlisting in the Army at age 41 and making it in the infantry is a miracle in itself. I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can tell someone, “I’d die for you.” But you never really know if you could until you actually risk it. I know my job. My first combat casualty lived! (And HEY, so did I!) Now, I know I can perform my job under unbelievable conditions. And my guys now know this, too.

Summer is upon us, dear reader: the fighting season. Behind us are the days where locals would just take pot-shots at us and run. The men who attacked us on May 1 were well trained, organized and are here to stay. They hit us with a well-executed complex attack using multiple weapons systems from multiple positions. We suspect they had night vision capability as well. Those men were a new batch of fighters instructed at Al-Qaeda training camps just across the border in Pakistan; the same men who orchestrated the attack in Mumbai. The same network we’ve been fighting since before 9/11.

The typical American infantry soldier often wonders just what we’re doing here. We arrest high-ranking Taliban leaders after months or years of investigation, and President Hamid Karzai pardons them (our president has the very same power of pardon by our own constitution). Are we just cannon fodder? Are we just wood police? After May 1, 2009, I’m reminded of a chief reason we’re in Afghanistan: better to fight Al-Qaeda here than at home. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Next time (unless something comes up): Preparing for the sergeant’s promotion board.

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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