Courage isn’t just found in firefights

I think you’ll enjoy this story. It is the script of what I’ll be presenting tonight on Pundit Review radio’s “Someone You Should Know” segment. The story comes from a Gina Cavallaro piece in the Military Times. There’s also a video at that link which is a “must see”.

But to the story –

One of the fears of any soldier going into combat is, of course, that he will be wounded. That’s completely natural. But that sets a soldier to thinking about how he will be cared for. Of course they usually know their own medic and are usually confident in their skills and know that he or she will do everything in their power to treat and save them.

But what if the wound is worse than that? What if it is life threatening. For most soldiers, that is the great unknown. I want to take some time tonight to tell you a story and highlight some people all along the line who risked their own lives to save the life of a badly wounded young infantryman.

The infantryman’s name is PFC Channing Moss. Moss was assigned to A company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the famed 10th Mountain Division. Moss had barely been in Afghanistan a month, and was in a humvee convoy operating out of Forward Operating Base Tillman which was ambushed on March 16, 2006. It was a fierce ambush and Moss, a turret gunner on one of the humvees, was just turning his turret to engage the ambush when 3 RPGs struck his vehicle. Two exploded on the commander’s side of the vehicle, but one shattered the front windshield, slashed across the commanders face and impaled PFC Moss, driving itself into his abdomen from the left side.

Platoon medic Sgt. Jared Angell, Moss’s best friend, pulled his buddy behind the passenger seat and used every piece of gauze and bandage he had.

“Luckily, his belt was there because it kept the RPG from going all the way through,” said the 24 year-old Angell.

It was then that the chain of events which would save Moss’s life began. The wounded vehicle commander, Staff Sgt. Eric Wynn, radioed for a medevac bird. That’s when Sgt. John Collier came into Moss’s life.

“Moss is an African-American and he’s gone to white. He’s in total shock from the loss of blood. But at the time, I really didn’t think about it. I knew [the RPG] was there but I thought, if we didn’t do it, if we didn’t get him out of there, he was going to die,” said the flight medic.

The projectile had bored into Moss’s left hip at a downward angle, tearing through his lower abdomen and pulling with it some of the fabric from his uniform and his black web belt. The tip of the device stopped just short of breaking through the skin on Moss’s upper right thigh.

Knowing they had a patient with unexploded ordnance in him that could destroy their aircraft if it exploded, the Medevac crew from the 159th Medical Company never hesitated.

“When Collier came back to the aircraft, he told me immediately” about the RPG, said CW3 Jorge Correa, the pilot of the aircraft, who delivered the news of Moss’s condition to his crew and asked if they were comfortable with the mission.

“They said, ‘yeah, we gotta get this guy to the hospital.’ At the moment, everyone was focused on the mission,” Correa said. “I know we risked our lives to save Pfc. Moss, but there was no hesitation.” Correa and crew pushed the Black Hawk to the limits trying to get Moss to medical help quickly as Sgt. Collier worked feverishly to keep him alive.

Moss was nearly dead as the Black Hawk landed at the battalion aid station at Orgun-E, about 20 miles from the site of the ambush. As they landed, Collier signaled wildly over the roar of the helicopter’s engines to alert the aid-station staff that this was no ordinary patient. They were met by general surgeon MAJ John Oh and the staff of the 759th Forward Surgical Team.

Rushing him off the helicopter and to the surgical site, Oh recalled that it wasn’t apparent just how delicate the situation was until they began cutting away Moss’s combat uniform and unraveling all the gauze bandages.

When he saw the tail fin of the RPG round, he yelled, “everybody get out!”

“I had never even seen an RPG before, but I figured anything with a rod and fins on it had to be a rocket of some kind.”

Oh asked for volunteers to stay in the operating room and help him save Moss’s life. Several soldiers raised their hands.

Oh and his volunteers strapped on body armor and helmets. They called in a two-man team from the 759th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).

Protocol, as far as Oh knew, dictated that someone in Moss’s condition be placed in a sandbagged bunker and listed as “expectant,” which means he would be expected to die because nothing could be done for him.

But Oh believed something could be done for the wounded soldier before him.

He “was still talking to me,” Oh recalled. He choked back tears as he explained: “When he comes in like that, there’s no way you can give up at that point.”

After the EOD team arrived, Oh warned the volunteers one last time that the surgery could cost everyone their lives.

The operating room crew prepped Moss for surgery.

Still conscious, Moss assumed the worst.

“I didn’t know they had put anesthesia in my IV. I was blacking out and I thought I was dying. I thought they were just going to leave me,” Moss said.

When they were finally able to take X-rays they actually got some good news. While the detonator was still attached to the device, the warhead and fuse, the parts that would have created the largest explosion, were not there. They had apparently sheered off when the round struck the vehicle. But until that moment, no one knew that.

Still, EOD technician Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Brown and his partner, Spc. Emmanual Christian, warned the medical team that the detonator was sensitive to electric current and could explode, causing its own brand of damage.

“Once I found out we didn’t have the warhead, I wasn’t worried about blowing up the aid station or about people getting fragged. But it would have taken the surgeons’ fingers off and ruined their careers,” said Brown.

The team decided the device would have to be removed by pulling it through in the direction it had traveled. Moss would be opened up so the extent of damage to his abdomen — and the path of the projectile — could be assessed.

The damage was extensive. Moss’s intestines had been shredded, his pelvic bone crushed and he had lost a lot of blood. However, no major organs had been disturbed.

The medical team members contemplated the options and decided that first they would have to eliminate the tail fin.

Brown began sawing off the tail fin, which protruded just above Moss’s left hip. Brown said he needed to remain calm and steady, but there were moments when the situation was frightening, when everyone in the room was “wide-eyed, staring at each other.”

Using his scalpel for the most delicate incision of his life, Oh took the next step and cut the skin on Moss’s right thigh where the tip of the device came to rest. Then, as if delivering a ticking baby time bomb, Brown gently and steadily eased the blood-covered metal tube from Moss’s body.

“OK, there’s the belt buckle. It’s coming. Keep feeding it — you feed it and I’ll hold it,” Brown told the surgeons who coaxed the cylinder from Moss’s open abdominal cavity as Brown, crouched down to the level of the gurney, slowly pulled it out toward his own chest.
Moss’s belt clung to the tube as the rocket fully and finally came free.

Brown cradled the ordnance and rushed outside and then into a sandbag bunker.

Channing Moss is missing about two-thirds of his intestines, part of his pelvic bone and needs more repair to his left hip. A member of the staff at Walter Reed calls him “Rocket Man.”

But the infantryman, who joined the Army to help give his family a better life, said he knows he’s alive because of his fellow soldiers.

“I don’t think there has been a day in the last year and a half that I haven’t thought about them, that I haven’t prayed for them. They saved my life,” said Moss, 24, whose slender 135-pound frame belies the hearty young man who went to war 55 pounds heavier.

“I knew it was love of country and brothers in arms. I hope God watches over them if they get deployed.”

MAJ Oh, who is currently in Baghdad working with the 28th Combat Support Hospital, said the event changed his life. He credits the bravery, training and skill of his team members for getting them all through the ordeal. But he knows how quickly things could have gone south that day.

“In the end,” Oh said, “it’s better to be lucky than good.” But on that day, they were all both lucky and good.

Sgt. John Collier, CW3 Jorge Correa, SFC Daniel Brown and MAJ John Oh had never known or come into contact with a young infantryman named Channing Moss until that fateful day in March of 2006 when they and others would risk their lives to save his. It isn’t often you get such a vivid example of the professionalism, courage and brotherhood that the profession of arms engenders. They all knew what they were risking but they all risked it on the chance that they could save a life.

Moss said it best when he said, “I knew it was love of country and brothers in arms” that drove their decisions to try and save his life. No medals were given or citations handed out, but it is because of the bravery and courage of that medevac crew, surgical team and EOD detachment that Channing Moss, known as “Rocket Man,” is now home and recovering with his wife and two sons. And that is also why they are all someone you should know.

First published at QandO. Please come visit us.

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