“Three Minutes Out”

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Army photo / Sgt. Justin Howe

Afghanistan's few highways are pock-marked with IED craters.

Army Major Nathan Strohm, a logistician, has deployed four times in support of the global war on terror: to Uzbekistan for most of 2003, to Iraq for most of 2005, and twice to Afghanistan – first from February 2007 to April 2008 with the 82nd Airborne Division, and then for a second time with the 82nd from August 2009 to August 2010.

In this April interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he discusses his toughest day on his most recent deployment, where he served as a forward support company commander for 4th Brigade, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Excerpts:

You come in and it’s like, “Wow! We’ve been into Afghanistan for seven and eight years and this is all that has been done.”…
They knew all of the areas that were of concern but as is the case in Afghanistan, we don’t know if this was actually being placed that day, or two or three days earlier when they had taken this route the last time, or if it had been there the whole time and it had just gotten uncovered enough under the sand that the IED was actually able to be executed.
They ran over the backside of a basically where a wadis went into a canal, that type of thing, on the backside of that as you are kind of going down into the canal piece itself. There was a pressure-plate IED. The lead vehicle was struck. It was an M1151 because we didn’t have enough armored vehicles to have everybody have an Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles or an military All-Terrain Vehicle (MATV), which is a much safer vehicle with a ‘V’’ hull.
The squad leader was the vehicle truck commander for that one. Basically the front half all the way to his seat and just between where the front door and back door was on his side, that whole front quarter of the HMMWV was blown completely off.
He was basically killed instantly but he died of wounds on the scene. The gunner sustained some back injuries. The driver actually, because of the blast and the twisting of the frame and everything, the steering wheel actually came down and smashed into his legs. It was no superficial damage but there was some muscle tissue injury and abrasions and stuff like that. He was effectively pinned in the vehicle.
The gunner jumped out and attempted to be Superman and rip the door off. [Laughs] He’s basically beating on it, “Open the door,” and the driver was like, “I can’t open the door.” [Laughter] It was comical in some sense but it is real world stuff.


The gunner actually went back through the inner hatch, back down in, and saw the TC [truck commander]. The driver is like, “You need to take care of the TC.” He looked at him and said, “Well, I am going to get you out first,” because there was a concern of fire and all that stuff. There was ammunition all over this thing because it was a gun truck.
He actually reaches down — well, actually both of them, the driver on the bottom part of the steering wheel and the gunner ripped the steering wheel off. He basically dragged him out of the vehicle, got him off to the side and by this time, the platoon leader and his platoon sergeant — we had taken the platoon and split it in half and made two combat logistics patrols.
The platoon leader and the platoon sergeant had cleared from their vehicles. The very next vehicles was the platoon leader and the very last vehicle was the platoon sergeant. They had gotten out, did their 5&25 scans and deliberately cleared with the medic of course, and deliberately cleared all the way up with mine detectors, night vision goggles (NVGs), visual acuity and all of that stuff.
This is 2230 or 2300 at night so it is pitch black and they have their NVGs on and the infrared (IR) lights are blazing and all of that stuff. It took a deliberate action to clear all the way up to this truck and then perform immediate action on the truck commander.
The medic was actually able to get him resuscitated enough to where he was breathing on his own. He had basically received an amputation of the left leg from the explosion, the right leg and both arms were severely damaged. He put had tourniquets on all of his limbs, the one was obviously completely amputated but the other three because he was trying to control the bleeding.
He helped him get an IV and got him breathing on his own. His circulation was back and got some color back into him. The TC actually spoke some words but you couldn’t really understand what he was saying because his head was pretty well beat up from the explosion.
At the same time, some other troopers in the back were given direction by the platoon sergeant to clear a HLZ [helicopter landing zone]. They started conducting that while another group was given the task to coordinate the actual MEDEVAC with the battle captain.
I was trying to get contact with the patrol but I couldn’t. If you looked at it from east to west, I was all the way on the east side of Kandahar City. The western edge of Kandahar was a mountain range between me and this location and then on that same valley on the other side, more western, was where the incident happened.
They were trying to talk to me but couldn’t so they ended up talking with the battalion S3.  I would relay some stuff through him on the phone with the battalion tactical operations center (TOC) to make sure that I was getting my feeds or whatever.
We were simultaneously on my end…standing up the second platoon to go out and recover these guys if we needed to. We ended up not needing to because elements of Charlie Company came down with a quick reaction force and actually helped to secure these guys and drag them back to another location and then get them out the next morning.
It was a sad day obviously; there is never a good day to lose a Soldier. What was impressive to me and the most satisfying if you can get anything out of a bad situation like that was that we had done all of this stuff so much in training that anyone of those guys were given the task of staying at the HLZ then they could do it.
If anyone of them was given the task to perform immediate action on a lifesaving action on somebody then they were all combat lifesaver (CLS) qualified. A couple of them actually went through an emergency medical technician (EMT) program that we worked through on the civilian side. They didn’t get their credentials but they went through the program.
The medic that we had from the HHC was actually EMT qualified to the point that when he handed off the casualty to the MEDEVAC bird when it landed, the flight medic heard what the medic was saying about all the injuries and all of the actions he had taken.  He looked back at the casualty and said, “And this guy is still alive?”
Unfortunately, that Soldier died from his wounds about three minutes out from Kandahar Air Field so he didn’t make it in.
When I was down there — me and the first sergeant went down after this — we met with the medical personnel and we were lucky because we actually got to talk to the MEDEVAC pilots and all of that stuff.
They wanted us to pass on to the medic, “Hey, whatever that medic did, make sure that he knows that this guy would have died there if he hadn’t of been there,” because he made it to where he could survive another 45 minutes to make it within three minutes of the hospital.