Thanks to security forces Airmen, emergency medics and hospital staff here, an Iraqi girl is still alive after an improvised explosive device detonated at her feet earlier this month.
The girl and her family had just attended a Joint Base Balad sponsored clothing-and-toys distribution for local kids at the east entry control point. Shortly after the event ended, Airmen near the ECP heard an explosion.
Maj. David Haigh and Master Sgt. Sua’ava Poti, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing antiterrorism officers, along with Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Potts of the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Group, were meeting with Iraqi security representatives outside the ECP when they heard the blast. A few minutes later, a local man came running toward them, yelling for help.
Sgt. Potts saw a vehicle approaching behind the man, and he immediately got out of his seat and sprinted toward it. Sgt. Poti followed closely behind. They soon saw other men pulling a young girl, badly bloodied and burned, out of the vehicle. Together, they put the girl on a stretcher.
“What went through my mind right away,” Poti said, “was seeing the kids happy one minute — telling us they love us, seeing the happiness on their faces — and then with the snap of your fingers, it went from happiness to tragedy.”
In the immediate vicinity, a 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron fire team assigned to guard the east ECP — Airmen 1st Class Joshua Henry, Tony Gross, and Donovan Blount — were in a Humvee just starting the short drive back to their command post. Airman Blount, from his turret-gunner seat, noticed something was amiss near the other vehicle down the road.
“We were starting to drive back when I heard Blount say, ‘Whoa! Hold up!'” said Airman Henry. “We got out and saw a litter coming down the road.”
Finding his radio inoperable, Airman Henry decided to drive to the nearest checkpoint that had working radios. When he got there, he told the Airmen inside to immediately call for medical assistance.
“Not even 30 seconds later, I saw them coming down the lane with the girl,” Airmen Henry said. He and his fire team hurriedly secured their weapons with an Airman at the checkpoint and went to help.
Both Airman Henry and Airman Gross had recently graduated from the combat lifesaver course at the Jameson Combat Medic Training Center here; they were taught how to provide emergency treatment beyond standard self aid and buddy care, keeping a wounded victim alive until paramedics arrive. They had no idea their training would be put to use so soon, but they grabbed their CLS kits and started going through their memorized checklists.
Assessing the little girl’s injuries revealed a deep wound to her abdomen, serious lacerations and burns to her arms and legs, and several small shrapnel punctures.
The Airmen focused their attention on bandaging the open hole in her midsection, and then began trying to provide emergency intravenous therapy using the needles and catheters in their kits.
When they realized they needed smaller needles, Airman Blount didn’t hesitate – in full battle gear, he sprinted for 500 meters to get more supplies.
“It was amazing to watch how fast he ran wearing about a 60-pound fighting load,” said Major Haigh. “It was like he was running a track event.”
As they waited, Poti and Potts worked diligently with the Airmen to treat her extremity injuries. It took them less than four minutes to stabilize all of the girl’s wounds.
“I was watching all of them as they made eye contact with her,” Maj. Haigh said. “At that moment, there was no language barrier. She was giving them this look that said, ‘Help me. This hurts.’ And Poti was looking back at her [as if saying], ‘Don’t worry, we’re here.'”
After treating the girl’s injuries to the extent they could, the Airmen double- and triple-checked their CLS checklists. Then, they started feeling the urgent need for an ambulance to arrive.
“It honestly felt like I was there for 30 minutes,” said Airman Henry, echoing a sentiment shared by everyone involved.
In reality, the ambulance arrived about 10 minutes after the initial call. The medics took her straight to the JBB Air Force Theater Hospital, where she was met by a trauma team in the emergency room. Maj. Mark Gunst, the AFTH trauma medical director, was one of the general surgeons who operated on the little girl.
“The hole she had in her belly was a potentially devastating problem,” said Major Gunst. “She was lucky those Airmen treated her and made sure she got here as quickly as possible.”
The medical team removed a thumb-sized piece of shrapnel from the girl’s intestine and sewed up her wounds. They also performed neurosurgery on a partially severed finger, returning it to functionality.
The staff was relieved to find that what had previously appeared to be charred, burned skin on her arms and legs was actually just a layer of dark soot from the explosive. After a thorough cleaning, they casted her fractured left leg.
The girl had her cast and sutures removed this week, and she is expected to make a full recovery.
“Every day since she came through our gate, I’ve felt like I could have done so much more, like I could have done a better job,” Airman Henry said. “Knowing she’s alive and that we played a part, it puts me at ease. It feels like a weight has been lifted. ”
He added that he knows the only reason he was able to help was because of the intensive CLS training he received here.
“There’s a quotation at the Jameson Clinic that says, ‘We don’t rise to the occasion. We fall to the level of our training,'” Airman Henry said. “After this, I’m glad it was enough.”