09 June 2011

First Person Combat: In a Minefield

First Person Combat: In a Minefield is today's must-read from the NYT's At War blog, written by James Dao. The piece recalls the events which took place last fall on a small hilltop in Afghanistan's Kunduz province. Soldiers of Alpha Company, First Battalion, 87th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division tell the story.

As Specialist Gannon explains, death and injury in war can seem maddeningly capricious. Why had other soldiers stepped in the same area and not set off the mine, they asked each other. Was it because Specialist Hayes carried a heavier load, including a machine gun? Had others actually stepped on the edges of the mine, but just missed its trigger? Was it a foreign-made plastic mine? Or a devilishly simple homemade device built from fertilizer and soda bottles?

An earlier blog post suggests some of the possible reasons the detectors missed the mines. But the soldiers will never know.

What is clear in the video is the response to Specialist Hayes’ injury. Sgt. First Class Dean Lee can be heard urging a senior medic, Sgt. Jerry Price, to move to the wounded soldier (Sergeant Price described his experience on the hill in a separate video). Later, Specialist Gannon steps alongside Specialist Hayes and the camera captures the calming voices of Sergeant Price as he administers morphine and the jokes of Sergeant Lee as he grips Specialist Hayes’ hand.

Sergeant Lee would win a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions on the hill that day, which also included leading medics to Petty Officer Kremer.

As the video closes, Specialist Hayes is loaded onto a stretcher to be carried to a helicopter landing zone at the base of the hill. “Be careful,” the specialist, in obvious pain, tells Specialist Gannon. “Why, you think I’ll drop you, bro?” Specialist Gannon replies. “No, getting out of here, man,” Specialist Hayes says.

This video contains images of violence and graphic language.

The video above is an edited version of helmet cam video taken by Specialist Michael Gannon. It "captures the eerie suddenness of the explosions, and, in the case of Specialist Hayes, the efforts of his platoon sergeant and two medics to aid and comfort him. What it does not quite capture are the raw emotions of the soldiers: the nervousness many felt climbing the hill, their anger and frustration after the explosions."

There's a lot more in this blog post, including links to video interviews with Spc. Hayes talking about his recovery, and Alpha Company's Cpt. Adrian Bonenberger on the challenges of leadership.

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