I’m a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. I’ve deployed there multiple times during my long Army career, as well as a stint in Iraq and Kuwait. I’ve also traveled all over the world both as part of my service and because I enjoy sightseeing and architectural history. I’ve always been a good Soldier and feel as though my experiences in combat helped shape who I am as a leader and a non-commissioned officer. I had a lot of close calls, but only one of them nearly caused me to perish. In fact, everything that morning should have meant the end of my life. But something strange happened that prevented that.
My unit had just taken over a Forward Operating Base in some obscure valley in the mountains of Afghanistan. The war was in full swing and the Taliban had been hitting everyone in the province hard in a last ditch attempt at not losing ground to the coalition forces. I had just been promoted to Sergeant and was finally in charge of my own fire-team, which was something that I had been looking forward to for a long time. I was ready to be all gung-ho and volunteer my guys for the worst details if it meant impressing the Platoon Sergeant and everyone else. My Soldiers weren’t a fan of it, but I knew that it would pay off in the long run. So we ended up having to pull a lot of the worse tower guard shifts, which meant covering from like 0200 to 0600. You’d end up getting little to no sleep and have to be up and ready to go out on patrols for eighteen hours the same day. It was a rough schedule, but my team had been sucking it up and doing it with minimal complaints.
The F.O.B had been hit with some mortar fire off and on for the first month or so that we had been there, but nothing serious and nobody had been injured at all. But one early morning that my team was on watch, an unexpectedly large group of Taliban fighters launched a full on attack. Before I could even really react to the sudden barrage of small arms fire, mortars, and RPGs, the tower that I was standing in got hit with something. I learned afterwards that it had been directly hit by an anti-tank rocket that was powerful enough to completely blow the tower off its own support beams. I was knocked out from the blast and did not come to until a few minutes later. I was alone in the tower when it got hit, and it took me a moment to even understand what had happened.
I was lying face down in the rocks somewhere down the hillside and knew immediately that I was severely injured. Gunshots were still ringing out all around me, but it didn’t seem as though they were being directed at me specifically. I tried to turn over, but let out a loud groan as the pain overwhelmed me. I quickly stopped trying to move as I didn’t want to make any more sound to alert the enemy of my location. The last thing I wanted to do was become captured or just have them kill me right there without even being able to defend myself. I reached down my body to see if I could assess just how bad I was hurt, since it was still somewhat dark and I could not move much. I felt a lot of blood from somewhere near my waist and that’s when the realization started to settle in that I wouldn’t be making it out of Afghanistan alive.
I can’t say for sure how much time passed, but the gunfire and explosions hadn’t let up at all when I heard a voice call out near my position. I didn’t recognize the voice, but I could tell that they were an American and not Afghani. Whoever it was had turned me over and had begun to pat my body down and open up my vest and coat to assess the damage. Even though it was much lighter out than when I first woke up, I still couldn’t make out much. I just figured that a Medic must have found me and made his way down to help. “It’s going to be alright, just stay with me.” He said that right after I had that thought, confirming it to be true. But it wasn’t any of the Medics from my unit’s voice. I turned my head towards him and did everything I could to try and blink away the blurriness in my eyes.
I couldn’t make out his face, but I did notice something about it was odd. He continued to work on my wounds, cutting off parts of cloth, pressing bandages to the bleeding cuts, and going back and forth to his aid bag. I noticed that his uniform was different than what a U.S. Army Soldier would have been wearing, adding even more to my confusion. It was all olive drab green, without any kind of camouflage pattern. By that point in the war, we had already switched to the new digital pattern uniforms. But even still, this Medic was wearing a uniform that was two or three previous. He also had older style harness gear and a “doc’s bag” next to him that he was busy pulling out supplies from. His helmet had green nettling hanging off it, and his face seemed to have been painted green with camo. I let out a very faint “Thanks, but who are you?”
“Ah, just focus on not falling asleep, pal. You know who I am. Just stay in there, you’re gonna make it.”
With that, I closed my eyes again and passed out once more. The next thing I knew, I was being lifted back up the hill to the F.O.B by members of my unit on a stretcher. The sun was out now and the battle had ended. The morning was filled with the sound of yells for help and the hustle and bustle of everyone trying to gather their bearings. A Medic that I knew, SPC Lincoln, was at my side as two others were carrying me; he was putting pressure on my wounds as they lifted me along. He said that I had lost a lot of blood, but if I kept on fighting, I was going to make it. I asked him where the other Medic was, and he just looked at me confused. I explained to him the Soldier I saw earlier that had tended to me and how out of place he seemed. Lincoln figured I had just hallucinated because of shock or the loss of blood, but I was adamant about what happened. He said they would take care of me now and not to worry about what I had seen or thought happened after I fell. I knew by his voice that he didn’t believe me, but once we got back behind the walls and they sat me down, he got to work on me.
He opened my vest and lifted up my coat and shirt and was shocked at what he saw. Someone had wrapped my waist in old Vietnam-era bandages that had stopped the bleeding and kept me alive until they found me. I couldn’t explain who had been there or how they managed to find me and save me, but I was thankful for whoever it was. I got shipped off to Germany to recover, and had a lot of time to think as I sat in the hospital. I knew that I had an Uncle who fought and died in Vietnam, but never knew what he did. I called my Mom and asked her and nearly dropped the phone when she said that he was a Combat Medic who died saving a fellow Soldier in his unit somewhere in the jungles.
I knew that it was my Uncle, a man I had never met, who was in the valley there with me that morning. He was watching over me and made sure that I returned home like he never could. I don’t tell anyone else that I’ve come across in the Army this story, because I don’t want them to think I’m crazy, but I know that it’s the only thing that could have happened. One Soldier from a generation ago making sure another returns home to see his family once more.