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Sgt. Jim Wilt, USA Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, March 3, 2008 – Despite advances in body armor and medicine, many soldiers would hesitate to expose themselves to a hail of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades. And not every soldier would risk his life to help a soldier from a different army.
But throughout the history of war, men have risen to the occasion in the heat of battle to save the life of another. Army Staff Sgt. Joesph Peer, a combat medic attached to the 82nd Airborne Division’s Long Range Surveillance Detachment, is one of those men.
On Aug. 21, 2007, Peer and paratroopers from the surveillance detachment, along with soldiers from the Afghan National Army’s 2nd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, were clearing the Askin Valley in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province of Taliban fighters when they were attacked. During the ensuing battle, two Afghan soldiers were wounded about a quarter of a mile from the then-23-year-old medic.
“Word came over the radio that there were wounded personnel among the dismounted coalition forces,” said Army Sgt. Trevor Oppenborn, an infantryman with the detachment. “Sergeant Peer immediately asked if they had a U.S. medic and did they need further assistance.”
“The .50-cal gunner was returning fire when the call came over the net that we had casualties,” Peer, a native of Glendale, Ariz., said. “I asked where and if a medic was on scene.”
Peer said he was told over the radio they had someone treating the wounded soldiers, but he continued to ask if his help was needed. He received no response.
“I then asked to be allowed out of the truck and move to the casualties,” Peer said.
“Approximately two minutes later, the call came over the radio for Doc and myself to dismount and aid the wounded soldiers,” Oppenborn, a Houston native, said.
Peer, accompanied by then-Specialist Oppenborn, moved to the casualties.
“I looked at the vehicle .50-cal gunner (Army Sgt. Matthew C. Hinerman) and told him to keep me alive, since we were still under fire,” Peer said.
“Needless to say, we immediately dismounted and took off up the high ground to aid the ANA on the other side,” Oppenborn said. “About a minute and 400 meters later, we reached the wounded soldiers, both in bad shape, and only a (Navy) corpsman for the two of them.”
Peer said he was running through his mind every possible scenario he could face when he arrived at the casualties. “I noticed a Navy corpsman was on scene, and he was treating one of the casualties. I immediately went for the other one,” Peer said.
Both of the Afghan soldiers had gunshot wounds to their lower bodies, and their area was receiving indirect fire.
When Peer got to the scene and saw what he had, he said he was focused on treatment and getting the men to a higher echelon of care.
“Doc jumped to work on the worse of the two, pulling him behind a boulder and starting to patch him up,” Oppenborn said. “I went to the aid of the corpsman; he looked like he needed it.”
Peer said the Afghan soldier he treated had a gunshot wound to his left leg, and he used a pressure bandage on it. The men realized they needed to move the wounded men to a safer location for an aerial medical evacuation once the corpsman and Oppenborn finished treating the other wounded soldier.
But with the indirect fire, “there was no way a medevac was going to land there,” Peer said.
Peer said he asked a lieutenant what vehicles he had to move the men. Shortly after, the wounded soldiers were loaded into two Afghan army trucks and driven to a helicopter landing zone, where Peer reevaluated their condition.
“When we got to the bottom of the hill, I unloaded my patient and set him to where I could perform a more extensive assessment,” Peer said. “I noticed that Sergeant Oppenborn and the corpsman were no longer with their patient. Once the patient had been moved off the truck, I began to assess him to discover his (wound) was actually in his groin and was a little more serious then I had been originally told.” Peer had been told earlier the second soldier was shot in the leg.
Peer continued to treat the wounded soldiers until the medevac helicopters arrived.
“When the birds arrived, I explained the patients and each injury,” Peer said. “When they were loaded on the bird, I grabbed my gear and headed back to my truck three kilometers away at the top of the hill.”
Peer said he would do it again if needed.
“Sergeant Peer’s actions show a man who didn’t care whether the soldiers were American or Afghan. … (He is a) soldier who did what it took to save another human’s life,” Oppenborn said.
“His actions were in accordance with, at a minimum, three of the Army's core values: selfless service, duty and, above all, personal courage. The fact that he risked his life for soldiers that aren't a part of our military reinforces his commitment to his profession and to the war on terror,” Hinerman, an infantryman with the Long Range Surveillance Detachment and the gunner on Peer’s vehicle, said.
What the fate of the wounded men would have been if Peer didn’t act is unknown. The troopers there with him that day believe it would not have been good.
“Where they were located on the battlefield, there would have been no way to retrieve them for several hours due to the volume of fire that the enemy was laying down,” Hinerman, a native of Kansas City, Mo. said. “In my opinion, they would have bled out long before the firefight was over.
“Staff Sergeant Peer stepped up when he could and proved that he was willing to risk his life to save another person's life, regardless of nationality. I'm not sure anyone could feel anything but the utmost respect for him,” he said.
Both of the wounded soldiers survived their injuries. Peer, Oppenborn and Hinerman have since remained in Kapisa province with the Long Range Surveillance Detachment. They will be home by the end of April.
(Army Sgt. Jim Wilt serves in the Combined Joint Task Force 82 Public Affairs Office.)