More than four years after being sprayed by shrapnel from an 82mm anti-tank round that narrowly missed him, Sgt. Aaron Herbst still feels the effects. Thanks largely to his a piece of body armor, he is alive today.
It is also four years since Sgt. Christopher Thompson was driving in a convoy in Afghanistan when his armored vehicle triggered a several-hundred-pound IED. He was injured in the blast.
Both of the wounded warriors recovered and stayed until their unit deployments ended in 2012.
Now both of them have been reunited with their life-saving gear.
Herbst received his damaged Enhanced Side Ballistic Insert on Oct. 15. The next day, Thompson was given the helmet that protected him during the IED blast.
He recovered and remained in Afghanistan for several months to finish his 2011 deployment.
"I wanted to stay, so I didn't give them the choice to tell me not to," Herbst told Army Times on Thursday shortly after the damaged Enhanced Side Ballistic Insert was returned.
Both Herbst and another soldier, Sgt. Christopher Thompson, received their life-saving gear in ceremonies at Fort Carson, Colorado, last week. On Friday the Army returned to Thompson a helmet that protected him during a 2011 improvised explosive device blast –
For Thompson, a combat engineer, it was the second IED attack he sustained during the same deployment.
In a ceremony at Fort Carson last week, Sgt. Christopher Thompson receives the helmet he was wearing during an IED blast in 2011 when he was wounded.
Photo Credit: Courtesy
Thompson was in the convoy during a clearing operation near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 18, 2011, when his armored vehicle set off the triggered a several-hundred-pound IED. The blast blew off the front rollers and RPG cage and cracked the engine block. The center console blew out and cut his leg, according to Thompson, who was with then a combat engineer for the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.
But despite his traumatic brain injury and cut leg, he says adrenaline plus his previous experience enabled him to focus and help an unconscious lieutenant out of the vehicle. Both were both taken to get medical care. Thompson spent a couple days getting treatment, he said.
"I was lucky. I've had no long-term impacts," said Thompson, now 31 and serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Engineering Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade.
Both soldiers joined in 2009 and remain in the Army. Thompson avoided long-term damage from his concussions, but Herbst still carries scars – and a bit of shrapnel – today.
Herbst, now 25, was wounded on May 18, 2011, in the Arghandab River valley in southern Afghanistan. He said he was standing next to a grape-drying hut when an anti-tank shell barely missed him and slammed into the building’s wall 10 feet away. Fragments ripped into his upper left arm, lower left leg and right knee of the Eagle Mountain, Utah, native. He also sustained a head injury. But the hard ballistic inserts stopped some fragments from entering his torso and saved his life, according to PEO Soldier.
After two weeks in medical care and another two weeks of rest, the infantryman was back out in the field, refusing to leave his platoon behind.
"I wanted to stay, so I didn't give them the choice to tell me not to," Herbst told Army Times.
He said body armor remained uncomfortable for the duration of his deployment, which ended in March 2012.
To this day the effects linger: scar tissue in his chest, shrapnel in his leg, hearing problems and daily symptoms of a traumatic brain injury.
But he’s alive, and still serving in the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. He said appreciated the return of the gear by PEO SPIE, which comes two years after he filed a request.
But the native of Eagle Mountain, Utah, whose man from a family has with a multi-generational Army tradition, said he didn’t see the plate as a needed symbol of his brush with death.
"It gives me a reminder of the history I've been through and that fellow soldiers have been through. It gives me something that I can pass down to my kids and their kids and so forth," said Herbst, now Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. "I don't really need a ceramic plate to remind me I'll have scars and pains for the rest of my life."
Thompson was driving in a mounted convoy during a clearing operation near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 18, 2011, when his armored vehicle triggered a several-hundred-pound IED. The blast blew off the front rollers and RPG cage and cracked the engine block. The center console blew out and cut his leg according to Thompson, then a combat engineer for the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.
Despite a TBI from the blast, adrenaline – along with his experience hitting an IED earlier in the deployment – kept him calm and able to help a lieutenant who had been knocked unconscious out of the vehicle. The two were both taken to get medical care. Thompson spent a couple days getting medical treatment, he said.
"I was lucky. I've had no long-term impacts," said Thompson, now 31.
Thompson, like Herbst, stayed with his deployment – the lieutenant was more seriously hurt and taken to Germany for care – until February, 2012. (His deployment, started in April 2011 and slated to last longer, was cut short by force reduction.)
He, too, was glad to get his gear back.
"It’s a memento for my first deployment. It reminds me of getting back to my family safe, and getting home," said Thompson., now with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Engineering battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. "The good times that happened as well as the bad times that happened during deployment; those memories make you who you are."