A Wounded Lieutenant's Journey
Mazzella, Jason, Army
I thought I'd say a few words here about what it's like to be wounded in country and evacuated to the States. I think that it's something a good leader needs to know about and understand because this is a time in your medevaced soldiers' lives when they truly need you.
A little background information. I was a Fire Support Officer with A/2-12 Infantry in the Pech River Valley of Kunar Province, Afghanistan. I was wounded in the Chapa Darà District Center while my guys were setting up an 81 mm mortar tube. It was February 20, 2010, and we were trying to prevent the District Center from being overrun by insurgents coming out of the Korengal Valley. If taken over, the District Center would provide a staging point for AAF operations throughout the entire Pech Valley. The week before, I had coordinated fire missions out there for hours, and we had confirmed multiple enemy KIA with the TOW missiles and CROWS. On this visit we were back to do the same, and we had been there only 10 minutes when a 107 mm rocket impacted within 15 feet of my platoon sergeant and me. My PSG, SSG Michael Cardenaz, was killed by the blast, and I was medevaced to Jalalabad and eventually to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.]. If this is too gruesome, I apologize, but I think that those of you reading this will see it as an opportunity to understand what the entire process is like. I pray that none of you is ever in my situation.
When I was first hit, I had no idea what had happened. I've been diagnosed with mild TBI. The only thing I remember is that I was talking to SSG Cardenaz, and the next instant there was dirt flying through the air. I had blood running down my face, my Oakleys were peppered with shrapnel and I couldn't see out of them. My mind was telling me to get to the MRAP for cover. I took three steps before I realized that my right leg was bending strangely below my knee. I went to the ground and took off my eye protection to see better. I saw SSG Cardenaz lying on his stomach next to the mortar tube, and I immediately got on my MBITR. I had an FO on the ANP OP above us, and he was on the radio asking me for a status. I told him that we had two urgent-surgical casualties and to coordinate with the Kiowas for a 9-line medevac request. At the same time, between breaths, I began yelling for the medics to help SSG Cardenaz. I continued talking to my FO as one of the medics assessed me. Eventually I had to tell my FO that I was one of the urgent-surgical casualties and that the medics were taking my radio away from me. After he got back from the deployment, my FO told me that he had no idea that I was wounded, let alone urgent-surgical. I don't know if it was my training or the shock, but I felt strangely calm. The medic moved me to cover and further assessed me. I was separated from SSG Cardenaz from this point until the medevac birds arrived.
Here's my first lesson for everyone - certify as many Soldiers as possible as combat lifesavers. From the moment I was wounded, I never looked at my leg. I knew that if I looked at it there was a chance I might go into shock, depending on what it looked like. I think this helped me keep my mind clear. My medic was hesitant to tighten a tourniquet on my leg, even though I had an open fracture and my leg was pretty much hanging on by the skin. She gave me some gauze to hold to my face and applied two bandages and a pressure bandage to my leg before she left me to help the other casualties. I was left with one of the squad leaders, who stayed with me until I was medevaced. This was the most important thing that anyone could have done for me because he kept talking to me and kept my mind off my injuries. He kept me calm when everyone around me opened fire on enemy positions. I had him tighten the tourniquet on my leg when I bled through all the bandages. It shouldn't be the wounded Soldier's job to care for himself when there aren't medics around. Have your guys trained and ready to do it in an instant, including inserting IVs. …