Things to read...

If time is short, I'd suggest reading at LEAST The Prologue and Legend of The Pinto Bean Posts!

Sunday, May 18, 2008


As I sat in Starbuck's coffeeshop today, I realized this may be harder to write than expected. never mind the fact that i'm typing at 25 wpm with one hand, I'm thinking mental. I have relived this in my head numerous times, and retold the story in ad nauseum. I however have never tried to write it down, a process which has made it much more "real" to me. I came close to tears, which would have only been the second time i've cried over this since that first day. Amazing are the power of words.

Hopefully I'll be able to to turn this trip and my story into some sort of readable/organized book. Please let me know what you think so far. In the interest of that I present to you for your reading enjoyment, The Prologue.

“Well hell. There goes med school.”

I sat there stupidly staring, feeling the anger rise within me, at the sleeve where moments ago my hand had been. People often reflect on their having survived some great tragedy with the thoughts of impending doom and life’s end they had at that very moment. Not me. My feelings and thoughts were centered on the future, and what wasn’t going to happen now.

I remember the violence, and then the lack of violence. I looked at the sand just in front of my feet and the hot desert stretching for miles in front of me. I knew the desert shouldn’t be in front of me. Not like this. I should be looking at the ORT, the gauges, the fire control panel. Instead all I saw was rocks, scrub and dirt. The smell of jet fuel, oils, and a dozen other odors I couldn’t place reached my nose. What I didn’t notice was the coppery smell associated with what was to come. I was hot, sweaty, miserable, and couldn’t hear shit. It occurred to me that I wasn’t wearing my helmet now, and I knew I’d not taken it off. I was taken off for me, not by hand, but mechanically. That wasn’t all that was taken off for me as I was soon to learn.

Between the heat, desert, odor and pain, I often joke that I first feared that I’d arrived in Hell on an express train. I continued to survey the landscape spreading out before me like a set from a bad western. How different it looked from the ground, the desert. Usually I witnessed it from above, feeling sympathy for the poor infantrymen on the ground, living the life I’d once lived. Now here I was again, the poor bastard on the ground, and as usual not by choice. I could feel my back, and it hurt. I wondered if it was broken, but my feet still moved so I figured it wasn’t. It was, but I didn’t know that yet. I then noticed the dull ache in my right arm, and knew it was broken. I’d felt this pain before, usually shortly after making an early departure from the motorcycle I was riding. I looked down to see how badly it was broken, and badly it was.

I was greeted not with an arm bent awkwardly at some unusual angle. No it was much more minimalist than that. I was instead greeted with just an empty sleeve, bloodstained, yet oddly not all that tattered. I stared for unending moments at that hollow sleeve while wrestling with the bleak future that was presenting itself to me. The future was making its’ introduction to me, and I didn’t even have the hand to shake and make acquaintances with. My dreams of med school went the way of my fingers at that moment. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that, and yet it did. I laid my now useless stump on what was left of the radio panel on my right side, and looked to my left to see if maybe my hand was there, a misplaced glove waiting only to be found and donned. It wasn’t. Given the training I had in an earlier non flying life as an EMT, I realized that if they didn’t find the hand and quick, it wasn’t going back on.

Unfortunately my training as an EMT seemingly ended at the knowledge that if I didn’t find the hand there was no hope for it. I continued to just sit there and bleed while growing angrier. The tourniquet in my survival vest was the farthest thing from my mind. The fact it was designed to be used with just one hand was just slightly farther away.

While I sat there enveloped in my own anger, the Blackhawk that had been the whole cause of this episode was landing. The EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team we had just been escorting moments ago got out with a whole new mission; recover the downed pilots. My backseat pilot was already out of the broken bird, but dazed. That left only me. The EOD team made it to me and went about getting me out. I mostly just sat there, too dazed and angry to be of help. As they dragged me from the cockpit, the pain in my back alighted with renewed vigor, and I’m pretty sure I yelled at them. The dragged me a few feet away and laid me up with my back against a ditch where I could see the Apache while they went to work on me.

I surveyed the bird from my new vantage point and thought to myself “this isn’t good. It shouldn’t look like this at all.” I remember noticing that all the blades were gone. Not just broken, gone. I could see that where the cockpit once was, there was only emptiness. The aircraft towered over us, a great warbird now grounded and sitting on its’ own tail, too broken to ever fly again. The EOD soldier was kneeling in front of me with his back to me and my right arm tucked under his arm so as I would not be able to see what he was doing. This is textbook procedure to keep a wounded comrade from losing hope at the realization of their injuries. I stared at his back, the aircraft, and his back again. Finally I think I tapped his shoulder and said “hey, I know the arm is gone, just put the tourniquet on.”

With the tourniquet on, the EOD guys asked if I could walk. I told them I could, and with assistance we made our way to the awaiting Blackhawk. They grabbed my backseater, CW4 Belisle and tried to get him on the aircraft too. He told them he couldn’t find his M4 and started again looking for it. They grabbed him again and told him if he didn’t get on the aircraft now they were leaving him here. He then got on the helicopter and away we went, back to the field hospital at Qalat, Afghanistan.

The trip to Qalat was hellishly long; at least it was to me. The reality was it was only a few minutes south of where we made our unscheduled landing, but to me it might as well have been on another continent. I lay up against Johnny, alternately trying not to cry, vomit, or get more pissed. Every bump and shake of the hawk sent pain shooting through my body, reawakening me to the situation I was now in. About every two minutes or so I would look up at Johnny and ask “Johnny, what happened? What the fuck happened?” Every two minutes or so he would have to reply with “I don’t know man, I don’t know.”

Finally we landed at Qalat and the field hospital it contained. I’d landed at this same Forward Operating Base (FOB) many times before, and even stayed here for two weeks just a few days prior. I didn’t expect to be back so soon and never like this. Someone came and opened the doors to the Blackhawk and asked again if I could walk. Again I said I could, and they helped me out. I got out of the aircraft and walked a few steps. I then stopped and looked over to my right and could see another apache. This one was whole and good and currently spun up to a hundred percent and ready to fly. I could see the pilots in the cockpit looking back at me. I knew it was Mr. Philamalee and Mr. Call in the bird, and that they were about to go where I had just been. I looked at them a moment longer and then looked back toward the field hospital and the safety it represented. Finally I looked at the rocks of the landing area and thought it odd that they seemed to be moving towards me. I was a million miles away by the time my body hit those very same rocks. I never even felt the fall.


Ronster said...

Mechanical? Ground fire? What caused that bird to come out of the sky?

Ugh, I just noticed your blood in one of the shots. You are a hellavu lot more man than I ever will be.

If you get near Northern Kentucky, I have a filet and potato for you to enjoy with the family.

Task Force Knighthawk Soldier said...

Daniel is incorrect in stating that a Blackhawk was the cause for his crash. I was a part of Task Force Knighthawk during OEF VII and know for a fact that the accident investigation in no way implicated a Blackhawk or its crew. I'll leave it to Daniel to tell you all what the real findings of the investigation were. In any case, it was a tragic event and I wish him all the best in his new life.

Anonymous said...

Knighthawk Soldier:

Are you certain of this? Were you on the Blackhawk? Army brass doesn't have a great track record at telling the truth. Ask Pat Tillman's family.

Daniel said...

Hi Everyone...I'll be more than happy to sort this out tonight when I have time to write another blog entry. Thanks!

Beanie said...

LongIslandGirl on VOX, a woman dedicated to our soldiers sends me posts of note. Thanks to her, I read your prologue, your response to the whole how things happened and Pinto Bean. Loved it all. But more importantly, THANK YOU for your service, for taking the hit and changing your life to protect our freedom. And thank you for sharing your journey around the country. You have a poll: calendar, glossy?, or book. Not knowing the second choice and having read what I said, I'd vote book :)


- You've probably already left New England for the duration, I assume.

Anonymous said...

Only you can describe the ways you think and feel.
Thank-you for your testimony and your duty to our country's military call. It has not been in vain.
Our creator loves you and has a purpose for you, that is why you are here. Be patient and listen and ask for his help.
Best Wishes,
Mother of 3.