The young Wounded Warrior lay awake, but very quiet. The C17 MEDEDVAC aircraft he was on had just arrived at Andrews AFB from Germany. It was 17:05, Washington DC time. He was back in America. But he’d left a great deal in Afghanistan – three of his limbs to be exact.
An IED blast during a dismounted pursuit of insurgents had thrown him off a trail and shattered his body. The explosion traumatically amputated his left leg below the knee, meaning that there was nothing below the left knee when seconds later the first medic arrived. The damage to the right leg required that it too be removed below the knee a few hours later. More shrapnel had ruined his lower left arm, so surgeons had to remove that hand and arm about mid-forearm. Even his right hand didn’t escape. One finger on that hand was fractured, as if the devil got in a final kick. The wounded warrior’s face was like a stone, immobile, without emotion. Medication ‒ and maybe a new and very different perspective ‒ had put him in a mental state where he silently observed the activity around him, as the aircrew and medical staff were preparing to off-load the patients.
He spoke to me in a very low voice, answering questions. It all seemed like a chaotic dream. His pain was under control. A twenty-year-old native of one of America’s big cities, this warrior had grown up with five siblings. His uncle had served in the military, he said. He listened to our welcome home comments and the explanation of what was coming next. His face never changed its expression. He was expecting to see his family in the hospital, and looked forward to that.
Then he told me something else very important. The medic that had first treated him was also on this flight.
A few minutes later, I talked to this medic. He, too, had been wounded. A secondary blast sent flames and debris screaming through the area a minute or two after he’d arrived to take care of his buddy, knocked him unconscious, peppered him with small fragments of shrapnel, and gave him 2nd degree burns on his face. He now wore eye protection to diffuse light. “When I regained consciousness after the attack,” he said, “the other medic that worked on me said that the initial tourniquets I applied probably saved his life,” referring to the amputee. The blast had partly scrambled his memory. But he now took pride in the confirmation that he’d been the first responder. When asked how he got to be such a good man, he said “because I married a good woman…. and I can’t stop telling her that.”
Our Military District of Washington team realized that these two wounded warriors would be separated and sent to different medical facilities. Before that happened, we wanted to make sure they could properly say goodbye to each other. Shared service ‒ and any shared pain that results ‒ is an incredibly powerful thing. So we helped the medic walk down the aircraft aisle to where the triple amputee lay. As soon as they saw each other the thrill of recognition rose up into the amputees’ face. His expression totally changed. The stone cracked. There was joy there now. The comradeship and experience they’d shared fused again. No one else on the plane could offer that. It strengthened both of them. A few minutes later we helped the medic back to his litter and then carried the amputee off the plane.Blog Post submitted by, COL Claude Schmid Team Chief, Medical Evacuation to CONUS Hospitals, Joint Forces Headquarters National Capitol Region Read more of COL Schmid’s accounts of the Wounded Warrior Flights: “But he’s also one tough son-of-a-…!” The Bond of Veterans Day Welcoming Home America’s Wounded Warriors