THE EXTRA MILE |
September 28, 2011
Name: Major Mark Duber
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Milblog: Warbird Doctor Diaries
The last four days have been peppered with small trauma here on the FOB, and orthopedic consult galore. It seems the injury of the week has been knee ACL tears; some soldier will stay in theater with this injury if their jobs allow easy activities, but most are infantry which precipitates a ticket home. Some soldiers have an obvious sense of relief when I send them home, but most fight me tooth and nail to stay in theater with their units. Their fighting spirit is greater than themselves and their fellow warriors are their family away from home; anything less than staying by their side is abandonment and neglect. I have to admit my respect goes beyond expectation to these motivated individuals and pushes me the extra mile for them.
One of the traumas we had four days ago had a story like movies are made of. Three U.S. soldiers were medevaced to our FST after they were injured from an insurgent ambush in a valley within our region. Here is their tale:
Forty-five U.S. soldiers and multiple ANA (Afghan National Army) soldiers were given the task of clearing an “Insurgent Hot” valley from one side, while another group would clear from the opposite side. This group of soldiers was dropped in via Blackhawks the night before. They set up camp at the mouth of the valley and prepared for the following day. When dawn arrived they began their journey into the valley, alertness peaked and expecting the worse. Intel reports indicated that up to 100 insurgents lay hidden in the valley.
The terrain was very rough, which slowed their movement greatly. After about an hour and a half they were ambushed from three sides. The initial attack is where the brunt of the injuries began. Two of the three soldiers we treated at our FST were in the middle of this ambush. One of them was the lead, and the second was the third soldier in the patrol. The scenario was intense; almost fateful. The third soldier in the patrol dropped one of his ammo clips and went to retrieve it. At the exact moment he was bent over an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) which was aimed and fired at him bounced off his back and hit the soldier in front of him square in the shoulder. When the ordinance exploded the two pounds of C4 that soldier was carrying detonated.
The second soldier was killed instantly and the soldiers in front of him and behind him (the two at our FST) were hit with the blast and various propelled objects in the area. The soldiers in the area took cover immediately and an extreme firefight ensued. The injured three soldiers we got were the first of many to see us, 15 in total. It took three days for them all to see us because the firefight prevented multiple Blackhawk missions from going in and taking the injured.
With the help of Apache helicopters and air force F-15s and F-16s dropping thousands of pounds in bombs with no friendly fire incidents, the unit survived with only one U.S. casualty and one ANA casualty. The imagery of this story as told by these soldiers will stay with me forever; likely in my nightmares. Our surgical team was effective in treating them and many were able to return to duty to fight another day with their units.
Hearing stories like this is a real reality check. I’m relatively safe within the confines of this FOB while the real heroes are outside the wire risking everything. Some days my adrenaline get going and wants to be a part of the real fight, but then I step back and realize that these soldiers are partially fighting confidently because they know my surgical team and I will be there at their time of need. We all have our place in the grand scheme of life and right now I’m right where I belong.