I wish I could wipe my mind of today. It was black and a void was torn open within me. A US soldier who was a son, husband, and father was lost. We did everything possible to save him; everything. Our hearts and soul weren't enough; now a family cries from an irreplaceable loss. I hope "I'm sorry we did all we could" helps the families pain even a millionth of a percent; likely it won't.
I woke up to a day that was just like any other so far; hot, humid and sunny. There was no morning report and we were all going to sleep in, but life never goes as planned. My commander knocked on my door at 8AM to let me know an Afghan soldier was being medevac to us after rolling his Humvee over. I got up, got ready and headed to the FST. After about 20 minutes the soldier arrived withering in pain. An x-ray showed a pelvic fracture which accounted for his discomfort and plans were made to send him to one of the national Afghan hospital to be fixed after I stabilized his pelvis. Nothing else was on the docket for the day so Joe J and I hit the gym as usual. Afterward we went back to our shacks to get ready for lunch, but lunch was going to have to wait. Our XO ran into my shack and informed me that 6 US soldiers were hit by a massive IED and were being medevac to us; ETA 30 minutes. I ran to inform our Commander and Joe J. Initial information suggested multiple orthopedic injuries so initially I was amped up. Just as Joe J and I entered the room we were told the bird just went wheels up and to get ready. After about 5 minutes a report from the flight medic on the bird said one of the soldiers was starting to crash; seriousness suddenly descended on the FST. This was not going to be our typical IED blast after all. Ten minutes past and finally the Blackhawk could be heard in the distance; the tension was high and adrenaline was flowing. Charlie Company went to get the soldiers off the bird and returned faster than normal. Medics were yelling as they ran next to the vehicle. We all knew this was definitely not going to be good. Two flight medics jumped out of the vehicle screaming to get the two soldiers out. As we all lent a hand to help we could see a medic performing chest compressions on one of the soldiers. Three others and I brought this soldier immediately to the operating room. The second soldier was brought to the trauma resuscitation area. Initially I focused on the orthopedic injuries of the soldier in the OR. His left arm had a significant orthopedic injury which was bloodless from a tourniquet. I released the tourniquet, gained control of his bleeding and then reduced and stabilized his fracture. I felt a good radial pulse in his wrist; each beat was his heart trying to survive. He had multiple other injuries that I needed to address but he was decompensating. Mike M and Joe J went into heroic surgery mode. I left at this point to go evaluate the other patient and four more that arrived by this time. All of the patients were stable except for the soldier that arrived on the initial flight with the soldier in the operating room; I focused my attention on him. Anesthesia was able to intubate him after much effort from facial injuries, and then I began my trauma and orthopedic evaluation. I stabilized the soldier’s injuries, sequentially screened the rest and went back in the OR. Initially, everything was going well and then the soldier took a turn for the worse. I was trying so hard to keep my emotions in check; I was losing. I knew after reviewing the soldier vital signs and seeing what our two general surgeons were struggling with, the light at the end of the tunnel was diminishing fast. Heroics weren’t enough, and after 1 ½ hour of insane effort he was gone. Tears flowed down every face in that room, our hearts were torn and our spirits ripped out of us all.
I was not ready for this. When I trained in the civilian medical world I learned to shut my emotions down when someone died, but here at this moment I could not. I was crushed and bleeding, something I’ve never experienced before. I guess my love for the brothers and sisters of our armed forces is more than skin deep. We are all one in spirit but separate as individuals. God this was hard.
All of the other 5 soldiers survived and were subsequently transferred to Baghram via Blackhawks. We were informed the deceased soldier would be leaving on a “Hero Flight” at 10:00PM and we were invited to participate with the rest of the active duty population on the base. I have never been a part of one; it’s not going to be easy.
It was now 10:00PM and our FST members and at least one hundred other soldiers were present for the “Hero Flight”. We lined a walkway from the mortuary to a spot where a Blackhawk would arrive to take the body. The moon was partially obscured by wisps of clouds but its light covered all of our faces; tears ran free for all. After about 10 minutes a Blackhawk slowly approached from the distance bathed in moonlight; its blade pounding just like our hearts. Once it was in position we were all called to attention, and slowly the soldier was wheeled down the walkway; covered by an American flag immersed in the celestial rays. Soldiers were audibly heard sobbing as emotions erupted. The hero was moved into the arms of the “Steel Angel”, and then it disappeared into the moonlight. “Goodbye my friend” I said out loud and then turned to walk with Joe J back to the FST; tears running down our faces.
Goodnight. Please say a prayer for our fallen hero.