FOB Salerno medical personel exhibit the Warrior Ethos during recent attack
The June 1 attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno is still fresh in the minds of the service members who call the base home.
Around 12:30 p.m., when most members of the base are enjoying lunch in the dining facility, insurgents detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device at the gate nearest to the DFAC. The shock wave from the blast caused the roof of the DFAC to collapse on those inside.
Among the service members in the DFAC that day were members of the 72nd Veterinary Detachment who usually eat lunch together. All members sustained minor physical injuries from the initial collapse of the DFAC, and concussions from the blast. Despite their injuries, these soldiers took action to not only get to safety but to ensure others got to safety as well.
As the 72nd Veterinary Detachment members left the DFAC they were met with small-arms fire by insurgents wearing suicide vests that had breached the base perimeter shortly after the initial blast.
“I just reacted. It wasn’t even any thought, the only thought was that we’re not dying today, you know, we’re getting home to our families,” said U.S. Army Capt. Bethany Everett, a native of Atlanta, Ga., officer in charge of the 72nd Veterinary Detachment team in Salerno.
As the members ran for cover, U.S. Army Sgt. Raffique Khan, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., a food inspector with the 72nd Veterinary Detachment, identified a civilian contractor under some rubble caused by the blast. With the assistance of Everett, they immediately ran back to pull the contractor out and assess his injuries, administering what first aid they could.
After getting him to a safe location behind a nearby connex, a vehicle came by picking up causalities to take to the base hospital.
Khan and Everett took it upon themselves to go back into the DFAC and clear the building looking for anyone else that may have been injured.
They heard another explosion and ran back outside. Khan ran for a connex closer to the road to pull more security when a soldier next to him got shot in the leg.
At the same time, Everett had positioned herself a couple connexes behind Khan, where an injured sergeant major was telling her the insurgents were wearing U.S. military uniforms and that they were under a humvee with a rocket-propelled grenade about 10-15 feet away from their position.
Khan pulled the soldier with the gunshot wound to his leg around the corner just as the insurgent blew himself up under the humvee. The connex protected them both from the blast. Everett assisted the sergeant major and other soldier to a nearby gator which took the wounded to the base hospital for further medical treatment.
“I don’t think I did anything special,” said Khan. “I just think that we were there for a reason though, because there were no medical providers [at the DFAC] for some reason. All the doctors, everybody, were at the hospital. They didn’t go to lunch that day.”
Unbeknownst to Khan, most of the hospital staff were involved in a surgery that had been bumped by a trauma patient that had arrived at the hospital earlier in the day.
Khan and Everett then split up. Everett was on the search for her other soldiers and Khan assisted in clearing nearby buildings.
U.S. Army Sgt. William Blackmore III, a native of Tampa, Fla., had been separated from his team while assisting with basic care to casualties until another medic showed up. Blackmore then provided suppressive fire for a sniper until another soldier relieved him because he didn’t have on his personal protective equipment.
“I think everybody was right where they were supposed to be,” said Blackmore. “I think that people reacted certain ways because that’s how they were meant to react. I can say that I’m proud of my team and I’m proud of myself.”
On his way to get his protective gear, Blackmore helped some foreign contractors out of a building that was in the direct line of fire from the insurgents.
After getting his gear, he helped the quick reaction force team clear nearby buildings before heading back to the hospital to gain accountability of the other members of his team.
“I was very surprised at how much people from completely different units, completely different military occupational specialists, can stick together and work together to get something done,” said Blackmore. “It just makes me realize how much of a team we are at the end of the day.”
Also in the DFAC that day, was U.S. Army Lt. Col. Geisele Miles, the 94th Combat Support Hospital commander, a native of Pine Bluff, Ark. After the initial blast, Miles and another soldier used individual movement techniques using any available cover, to make their way back to the combat support hospital.
Everyone in the hospital heard and felt the initial blast as if it was right outside. The hospital, like many buildings on base, has no windows and all the doors were secured, so the personnel inside didn’t really have a picture of what was happening or where the action was.
“All we could hear was the radio calls that there were going to be casualties coming,” said U.S. Army Maj. Kathleen Whitney, from Fort Worth, Texas, chief nurse of the intensive care unit. “There was firing outside, and there was people screaming.”
The hospital issued a mass casualty code and began to prepare for incoming casualties and the emergency room guards took up defensive positions with their weapons pointed on the doors.
“We really didn’t know when they opened [the doors] was it going to be casualties coming in or was it going to be enemy trying to overrun the hospital, but it ended up being casualties,” said Whitney.
The combat support hospital soon started receiving patients from the attack. Medical personnel snapped into action. Medical assets from around the FOB came to the hospital to assist with the overage of patients being brought in that day.
U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Peck, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the concussion care center at Salerno, went to the hospital from his clinic to assist in any way he could.
Peck helped triage patients at the troop medical clinic before he was moved to the minimal care area. He received patient history and evaluated patients using the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation, or MACE exam, identifying those patients who needed further medical care and those who need to go to the concussion care center.
“They were great,” said Miles. “I don’t know if it was an adrenaline high or what, but they really stepped up to the plate. There is only 24 of us here for the forward support team, but we had other medical assets from the FOB that came in stepped in and helped us. If I could give them all a purple heart I would.”
“The brave medical warriors exhibited all traits of true bravery, and truly exhibited that the warrior ethos is all about. Their actions were noble and heroic as they faced true adversity, and yet stepped up to care for the wounded by providing world class healthcare in all aspects. These brave men and women are a true credit to themselves, Task Force Medical-Afghanistan, and the United States Army,” said Col. Bruce McVeigh, TF Med-A commander.
Article by Capt. Addie Randolph, Task Force MED - Afghanistan