Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Treat wounded combatants with respect, not as victims

The price of battle in Afghan's Sangin Valley

"A hero doesn't have to flaunt his courage"

By Ed Marek, editor

The Battles of Sangin Valley, Afghanistan were many, and they remain many to this day, one of the most difficult and lethal aspects of the Afghan War. The valley is in the southern Helmand province, long a center for opium trade. Politically, Sangin held little sway in Kabul, a “minor backwater." The Taliban enemy viewed it differently, largely because of the opium.  

Ferocious fighting has been in train there daily, often many times in one day, between the Allies and the enemy, largely the Taliban reinforced by fighters from other Islamic countries, since 2006. 

British forces have called it “Sangingrad,” after the tortuous battle of Stalingrad in WWII. Others have called it the most dangerous place in the world. Others have called it “No Go Valley.”

Sgt. Dean Davis, a US Marine correspondent, described Sangin this way:

“Sangin is one of the prettier places in Helmand, but that’s very deceiving. It’s a very dangerous place; it’s a danger you can feel.”

Julius Cavendish reported for Time magazine on March 10, 2011 that one western diplomat viewed the current situation this way:

"Basically in Sangin they have lots of guns, lots of heroin infrastructure, key distribution points, and zero interest in 'government' — which may just want to control the heroin ... It's not always useful to look at things as 'government' versus 'Taliban' rather than a hotch-potch of interest groups — cut along tribal, political, historical lines — fighting for control." 

 The fighting here over many years has been so fierce and deadly that British forces called it “Sangingrad” after the WWII Battle for Stalingrad.

In Mary's blog at H&B Forge, Mary (Huston) Barber Scherer said this. It struck me in the heart: 

"A hero doesn’t have to flaunt his courage. That’s part of what makes him a hero. But I wanted to tell you all so you would know that there are still people out there who give all they have."

Let's drop back to roughly 2010 - 2012 or so, and meet some heroes who fought in Sangin, Afghanistan, and survived, suffering great trauma, pain, and anguish, yet they survived and have worked hard to make a comeback. Acquaint yourself with their sacrifices, their courage, and their attitudes, convictions, and perspectives.

Before I start, please pay your respects to those who lost their lives in Sangin. Putting an accurate total number of those British and America Fallen is out of my reach, but the number is somewhere in the several hundreds. You might watch a video entitled, "Marines say goodbye to Fallen Brother."

Stand ready and firm as your heart aches and fills with pride at the same time.


Editor's note: You will see several photos taken by Anja Niedringhaus for AP in the stories below. Anja was killed in April 2014 while on assignment in Afghanistan for the presidential election. She previously had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting about the Iraq war.

Christine Longère reported on the killing, "In Commemoration of the Photographer Anja Niedringhaus (1965 – 2014)" The article was presented by PBS.

Anja explained her desire to photograph in Afghanistan:

“One tries to understand and take photos of what one sees, reporting on what happens in a war on behalf of all those thousands who suffer. If I do not take photos of this or that it will not get known. Tanks do not solve problems.”


Lance Corporal Christopher Bogner, USMC (Ret.), 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, the 1-7 Marines

Lance Corporal Christopher Bogner was hit by an IED on July 11, 2012 in Sangin. Bogner sustained shrapnel injuries which required surgery: two collapsed lungs, swelling of the brain, and shrapnel in the body. The collapsed lungs presented the greatest threat. He would end up getting pneumonia as a result. As of September 15, 2012, he has made a remarkable recovery and was released from Walter Reed and sent to San Diego. He sustained lacerations to his neck, loss of a sizable amount of skin from his one forearm, his ear drum in the right ear, and a loss of sight in his right eye.


You can hear part of his story at YouTube. There is another story showing him hunting deer with two friends - he bagged one!


Corporal Kionte Storey, USMC (Ret.), 3-7 Marines

Corporal Kionte Storey was with the 3-7 Marines in Sangin. On September 7, 2010, while on patrol, he stepped on an IED in a hallway of a building they were inspecting. He lost his right leg below the knee but doctors saved the rest of that leg. He, like so many, has made a remarkable recovery and participated in the Warrior Games.

At the Warrior Games held in May 2012, he ran 100 meters in 12.32 seconds. 

You can hear part of his story at PodBean.

Corporal Kevin Dubois, USMC (Ret.), 3-4 Marines

Corporal Kevin Dubois went out to replace a Marine wounded while guarding a hastily set up landing zone near Sangin. Dubois was a scout sniper by trade. He recalls leaving a residential compound his unit had occupied and reaching the edge of the landing area. The helicopter was approaching. He then stepped on a well hidden IED and lost both legs up to his pelvis.

In this photo from the Andover Townsman in 2014, you see Dubois, with his wife Kahyla and their dog, raising the flag in front of his new all-expenses-paid home presented by Homes for Our Troops. At the time Kayla was expecting.


Corporal Ricky Fergusson, 4 Rifles Infantry, British Army

Corporal Ricky Fergusson risked death four times to help rescue colleagues before he was also maimed by an IED in Sangin. He had tried to save a fifth soldier but that soldier died. He lost both legs above the knee, an eye and five fingers. His face had to be rebuilt.

 In this photo he is standing on prosthetic legs usually used to train soldiers with leg amputations before moving on to the longer legs.

Fergusson joined the Army at the age of 16. He served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and then Afghanistan. He spent six months in a medical rehabilitation unit for treatment of his injuries. His recovery has been described as remarkable. He eventually received the long prosthetic legs.

Here you see Corporal Fergusson receiving the Military Cross from Queen Elizabeth for acts of bravery and risking his own life to save his comrades.

While in the Headley medical rehabilitation unit in England Fergusson was introduced to training on Total Gym units. He has become a full time C-Leg user. His face has been reconstructed. 

He carried the Olympic Torch in Broseley, England in May 2012, saying: “with prosthetic legs, they gave me the only hill of the journey to get up!”


Lance Corporal Adam Devine, USMC (Ret.), 3-7 Marines

Lance Corporal Adam Devine works out in physical therapy with daughter Amya on his back. A machine-gunner with the 3-7 Marines in Sangin, he stepped on a 7-10 pound pressure plate, causing an IED explosion. His battlefield comrades saved his life until he got to a hospital, where they completed that work. He lost both his legs.

This photo shows Devine with General James F. Amos, USMC, commandant of the Marine Corps, after receiving the Purple Heart.

This shows him walking into his new home, presented by Tunnels2Towers.org.

There are two internet pages showing wonderful photos of Adam Devine, his time in the hospital, his family and some distinguished visitors.


Cpl. Jordan Williams, USMC (Ret.), 1st Marine Division

Cpl. Jordan Williams was a radio operator for his 1st Marine Division recon battalion commander. He was sitting in his commander’s light armored vehicle (LAV) repairing the radio when an IED exploded under him. He had multiple fractures to both legs and his pelvis.

Brian Kelly re[portyed for the Bainbridge Island Review:

"The bomb hit the LAV’s lower armor plate, which rammed into the vehicle exactly where Jordan was sitting. The blast lifted the 28,000-pound vehicle and threw it forward, where it bounced and then shot forward again. Four of the LAV’s eight tires were blasted off and there was a 5-foot hole in the ground from the explosion. ""  

Williams spent two and a half months hospitalized in Bethesda, Md., and four months in a VA hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., after which he was assigned to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif.

While at Bethesda, Jordan had surgery three times a week on his pelvis and left leg, both of which were placed in a “cage” that prevented movement. He has undergone more than 20 surgeries since the incident.  

When he was finally unplugged from the various life-support machines, activity began with a wheelchair, then a walker, a cane and then his own two feet. 

This photo shows Williams, left center, with his parents, to his left, at Island Church on Bainbridge Island, Washington on Saturday, January 7, 2011. Williams received a Purple Heart.


Lance Corporal Juan Dominguez, USMC (Ret.), 3-5 Marines

Lance Corporal Juan Dominguez was on a foot patrol in Sangin, a rifleman on the front line safeguarding the way for the others. He slipped down a small embankment and landed on a pressure-plated 30 pound IED that threw him 15 feet into the air. He lost both legs above the knee and later his right arm above the elbow. He has since been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. Since that day, he has endured more than twenty-five surgeries. His corpsman, working to stop the bleeding, refused to give him morphine fearing he would go into shock and he would not be able to revive him. It took 18 minutes for the medevac helicopter before he could get any relief for the pain. 
This photo shows Dominguez and his family, along with Fred Siller, left, and Gary Sinise, right, both of whom work for wounded warriors and, in this case, are working to raise money to build the Dominguez family a home.

There is a gallery of Dominguez in the hospital, and out, and his wife and his daughter Victoria at the Huffiungton Post. This is one photo from that gallery.
Corporal Burness Britt, USMC, (Ret.), 2-12 Marines

These next three photos taken by Anja Niedringhaus, AP, are of Corporal Burness Britt, USMC, 2-12 Marines. The first is shortly after he was placed on an Army “Dustoff” medevac helicopter after being seriously wounded on June 4, 2011 by an IED while leading 10 Marines through a wheat field near Sangin. 
 Niedringhaus, who was embedded with the Dustoffs, explains, 
“He was thrown into the air, and landed with a thump in the field, a searing hot pain raging in his neck. He had been hit by a huge piece of shrapnel from a bomb and a major artery was cut. Britt believes the improvised explosive device was hidden and somebody triggered it from a distance, though he can't say for sure.” 
Part of his skull had to be removed because his brain had swollen to nearly twice its size. He has been through multiple surgeries, with more to go to rebuild his skull. During one of his surgeries, he suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed on his right side. He was placed in rehabilitation in Richmond, Virginia and regained his speech. While walking, he wears a protective helmet. 
Niedringhaus found him and visited him in Richmond. Britt told her this: 
"The love for the Marines is deep in my heart, they are my family. I want to return immediately back to Afghanistan to help them keep fighting."

The Daily Mail published an article along with photos of Britt. This one shows Britt with his wife, Jessica, while in rehab in Richmond. 
Lance Corporal Jacob Romo, USMC (Ret.), 3-5 Marines
LCpl Jake Romo, 3-5 Marines “Darkhorse Battalion,” lost both legs in an IED explosion in Sangin February 2011. He did physical therapy at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego. Photo credit: David Gilkey, NPR.


This photo shows his wife, Michelle.

This photo shows Romo in physical therapy in San Diego. He said he knew he had lost both legs as soon as he was hit. He comments, "(It) was straight up miserable."

Here you see him with Michelle and his two children.

Jake Romo in this photo is pressing ahead with life, practicing to be a mixed martial artist instructor while in a wheelchair.

There is a wonderful video of him and his wife, along with demonstrations showing how homes for our wounded troops are designed with a wheel-chair bound veteran in mind. The video is presented by Homes for our Troops.

Lance Corporal Jorge Ortiz, USMC (Ret.), 3-5 Marines

Lance Corporal Jorge Ortiz, USMC, lost both legs above the knees, four fingers on his left hand, and the thumb on his right hand while taking photos of a weapons cache in Sangin. He then stepped on an IED, January 15, 2011. His fellow Marines found him in the IED's bomb crater. Initially conscious, he then lost consciousness and woke up as the Marines coming to his aid did whatever they could to prevent shock. A British helicopter came in and airlifted him out to the Camp Bastion Hospital. 

Ortiz commented:

“I heard the boom and then I was lying there in a crater with dust everywhere and the voices of people starting to come in slowly. I blacked out for a second and when I woke up I could see my legs were gone and the bones were protruding … At first I thought ‘how the hell did this happen to me?’ But somebody was going to get hit that day and fortunately I was the only one injured, so it wasn’t a bad day.”
He was determined to recover. A few days after his doctor refused him any more pain medication, Ortiz put on his "stubby" prosthetic and took a step. He commented, "Damn, today was the first day I walked since January 15th this year. I could still remember that day as if it was yesterday. The future is bright for those who try, I guarantee you that because I’m witnessing it myself."

There is a video with Ortiz and his then girlfriend Aiyanna Lynn Coleman, now wife, presented by Homes for our Troops. Aiyanna is an Army veteran.

Ortiz said:
“Some guys lose their confidence when this happens but my confidence went up higher. It isn’t my nature to feel self-pity because of my injuries. I’m not one of those to drown in my sorrows. I just like to keep a positive attitude.”

Lance Corporal Blas Trevino, USMC (Ret.), 1-5 Marines

Lance Corporal Blas Trevino, USMC (Ret.) is holding on to his stomach where he had been shot outside Sangin. A C/1-214 Army Aviation medevac helicopter that had come to get him had been hit as well. The pilot quickly pulled up to see if he could fly, decided he could, and returned to the exact spot where he had been hit. The crew saw no one. But then one of the Marines named Campbell jumped out to look around, then all of a sudden Trevino jumped out of the bushes and sprinted to the helicopter, and another Marine followed him. Campbell hugged him and shouted, “You made it! You made it.” The skipper took off and got him to the hospital. Anja Niedringhaus took the photos used here for AP.

This photo shows Trevino yelling at his fellow Marines to climb on board the helicopter as he clutches the gunshot wound to his stomach.
On board the medevac rescue helicopter, Trevino clutches his Rosary. 

Lance Corporal Jerome Hanley, USMC (Ret.), 3-2 Marines

Lance Corporal Jerome Hanley, USMC, wounded in an insurgent attack north of Sangin, is loaded on a medevac helicopter from the US Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment at a "hot" landing zone that was under fire, May 15, 2011. AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, presented by The Atlantic

Hanley was wounded in the leg when insurgents attacked with mortar and grenades.

Hanley was hit with shrapnel and broke his left leg. The doctors repaired his leg, removed some of the shrapnel that ripped into his body, but had to leave some of it in. 
He later began law studies at Suffolk Law School hoping to build a legal career in intellectual property.

Corporal Andrew Smith, USMC (Ret.), 3-2 Marines

Corporal Andrew Smith, USMC was a member of Jerome Hanley's (previous photo shot) sniper team. He was seriously wounded by enemy shrapnel in the same insurgent attack north of Sangin. In this photo he is being treated by Sgt. Jaime Adame, an Army medic on May 15, 2011. 

He suffered a life-threatening arterial bleed, losing blood at an alarming rate. The medics and the helicopter and its crew were under fire when they picked up Hanley and Smith.

Following his discharge from the Marines, Smith attended  theCharleston School of Law, graduated Summa Cum Laude, and is an attorney in Charleston.


Fuselier Thomas James, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

Fuselier Thomas James, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, watches the coffin of his comrade Fuselier Shaun Bush. Smith was killed trying to save another colleague. James was hit by the blast that killed Bush. 

He lost his right eye, his right arm was blown away as were the fingers on his left hand. His face has been scarred bits of flying shrapnel, mainly his forehead, cheeks and nose. 

Anton Antonowicz quoted James saying: 

"I'm alive. I'm on the mend. And I can contribute again. Maybe I can't be on the front line. But the Army is my home. The blokes are my mates. And, I miss 'em. It's so strange. We (James and Shaun Bush) were walking alongside a canal. Taliban were hiding on the other side. They pulled a wire to detonate that bomb as I passed.

"I remember it all. I just got blown up. I saw my arm was gone. Blood. Shouting. And sometime in the middle of all that I thought it was lucky that I was the only one injured in that blast. I just didn't know about the others."

This photo shows James with stepson Brandon, girlfriend Kelly and baby Evie. He has said, "Having a daughter is the best thing ever, and if I’d never been in the army, and if I hadn’t stepped on the IED, I wouldn’t have met Kelly and I wouldn’t have had Evie, so I don’t regret it for a second.”

James commented further:

"There are hundreds of people right now who are going through what I did. What I’d say to them, is never give up - perseverance is the key. I believe the greatest way to honour those killed in Afghanistan is to live the life you have, to the full. And that’s what I’ve done since I came back and what I will continue to do.”


Lance Corporal David Richvaslky, USMC, 1-5 Marines

Spc. Jenny Martinez, left, talks to injured Lance Corporal David Richvaslky, 1-5 Marines, after he is placed onto a medevac helicopter from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Lift “Dustoff,” Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment. He suffered shrapnel wounds to his head, outside Sangin. 

 Elliott Woods, writing for The Sun, said: 

"Richvalsky took a dime-sized chunk of metal to his temple and so much shrapnel on the right side of his body that he looked, in his words, as if he 'fell off a skateboard and slid for about ten feet.' His face, he said, was like 'a nasty burger.' The IED blast shattered his eardrums and compressed his skull, leaving him severely concussed and nearly deaf. These injuries could have won him a trip home for good, but Richvalsky said he pushed to come back — not because he wanted revenge but because he couldn’t stand the idea of leaving his squad mates behind."