Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dean's experience in Afghanistan

My husband Dean was deployed to Afghanistan from November 2009 to 2010. He is a combat engineer and his unit's mission was to do route clearence in Helmand Province for the Marine Corps.

On March 23, 2010 he was struck by 2 IED's within hours of each other. Both blasts knocked him unconscious for at least a few minutes (although he doesn't quite know how long). The first blast (an anti-tank mine) happened right underneath his driver's side tire of the truck he was driving. When he came to, he went to get out of the truck and fell into the hole the blast had left. He got up and started randomly picking things up....not really aware of why or what he was doing. He finally realized they were in a fire fight and he settled into his training and began to fight. After the firefight, he was told to drive in another soldier's truck. The terrain they were driving on was treacherous! He can only liken it to driving on a jackhammer with your body repeatedly slamming down onto the seat and for his unit they drove like this for 15 to 50 hours at a time....non-stop....6 to 10 days at a time with a 2 to 3 day "break" in between missions. The "breaks", however, were spent repairing equipment for the next mission.

While riding in the 2nd truck he was in such excruciating pain. He had to take his Kevlar off (which you are trained NOT to do!) and hold his own head down to his knees by putting his hands in his open mouth and holding his lower jaw. His back and especially his neck and head were pounding to the terrain. About 2 hours later, while riding in this 2nd truck, they hit another anti-tank mine. This blast tossed the guys around the inside of the truck and further cemented Dean's injuries. He doesn't remember anything after this blast for quite a few days. He knows they completed the mission and returned back to their FOB.

When Dean's unit went outside the wire, they were gone 6 to 10 days in the middle of nowhere with nothing around them. They were their own self-contained "city". They had no other soldiers to rely on for help or backup. It was their job to get the Marine's to their next location safely. They drove at 5mph or less and always had guys on foot detecting IED's as well. The whole unit was under a tremendous threat every moment of each mission...any moment could be their last.

A couple weeks later Dean was driving the 916 (like a semi truck) when he was hit by another IED. This one hit the rear passenger side, lifting the truck's rear, blowing out the rear window of the truck and jolting Dean and another soldier up and forward. Dean remembers hitting his head on things and being very shook up. He doesn't think he lost consciousness with this one...but the first two blasts had already scrambled his brain and so things after March 23rd are not remembered well.

I've heard statistics that 80% of Dean's unit was hit by IED's at one time or another and so they all suffered with the same constant complaints of headaches and backaches. The medics didn't seem to be able to tell who was affected worse than who and no one was ever medevac'd out for brain or back issues. As for Dean he says it was pounded into their heads that if they said they lost consciousness when asked by the medic about the blast, that they would be medevac'd out and that the helicopter used to transport them would not be available to a more seriously wounded soldier. Dean always reported to the medic that he didn't lose consciousness. He always kept on going through pain and confusion.

At the end of April 2010 he was at the FOB and following orders to go get something. He was running between the tents in the pitch black darkness (there are no street lights and someone had not properly marked the tent wire so that it could be seen at night. He tripped over this tent wire and stuck his arms out to catch his fall. His body came down mostly on his left arm and as he hit the ground he heard a loud *snap*. He was in instant, excrutiating pain! He went to a medic to have it looked at and was told it was probably a sprain. It continued to swell and turn black and blue over the next days and he saw another medic who said the same thing???? He was sent out on missions and was totally fine with that (going on missions was what he signed up for and what he loved to do!). As his R & R date approached the medics cleared him to come home for his 2 week visit. When he got here, I took one look at his arm and knew this wasn't a sprain!!! Not knowing how military procedures worked (we were new to this life) I took him to Kaiser ER the next morning. Their x-rays confirmed that he had a bad break in his elbow and a "non-union". News of this injury traveled through the units' wives and made it to his Lt. Col. who was here in Oregon. He told us we had to get Dean up to the nearest military base (Fort Lewis in Washington) ASAP. He said someone would contact us to let us know what to do.

From there we followed the instructions we were given. I took him up to Ft. Lewis and that's where chapter 2 begins - lol. What a joke of an experience he had there....


  1. Karen, I don't know whether to shiver, to reel, to feel nauseated or totally horror stricken,but what I do know is that this is brilliantly written and I can't wait to read more...

    1. I don't know how I missed your comment from March (sorry). Thank you for the compliment on my writing. I hope through my writing I can cause people to feel something.