[caption id="attachment_3788" align="alignleft" width="309"]
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Matt Garst absorbed the direct blast of an improvised explosive device in Shorsurak, Afghanistan, June 23, 2010. Fortunately for Garst, the bombâ€™s explosives didnâ€™t completely detonate. After spending a day to rest and attend to some aches and pains, Garst continued his mission. Courtesy photo[/caption] SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, Afghanistanâ€“ Marine Corps Cpl. Matt Garst continues to do his job here, thanks to an enemy-emplaced roadside bomb that malfunctioned.
Few people survive stepping on an improvised explosive device. Even fewer walk away the same day after directly absorbing the force of the blast, but on June 23, Garst did just that.A squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Garst was leading his troops that day on a patrol in Southern Shorsurak, Afghanistan, to establish a vehicle checkpoint in support of Operation New Dawn. The group was four miles from Lima Companyâ€™s newly established observation post when they approached an abandoned compound close to where they needed to set up their checkpoint. The compound would serve well as an operating base â€” a place for the squad to set up communications and rotate Marines in and out of. But first, it had to be secured. As they swept the area with a metal detector, the buried IED registered no metallic signature â€“ it was too deep under the soil. Two men walked over it without it detonating. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 260 pounds with all his gear on, Garst is easily the largest man in his squad by 30 or 40 pounds â€” just enough extra weight to trigger the IED buried deep in hard-packed soil. Lance Cpl. Edgar Jones, a combat engineer with the squad, found a pressure plate inside the compound and hollered to Garst, asking what he should do with it. Garst turned around to answer and he stepped on the bomb. â€œI can just barely remember the boom,â€Â Garst recalled. â€œI remember the start of a loud noise and then I blacked out.â€Â Since Garst's encounter with the IED, his tale has spread through the rest of the battalion, and as often happens in combat units, the story mutates and becomes more and more extraordinary. What really happened even eludes Garst. When he came to, he was standing on his feet holding his weapon, turning to see the remnants of the blast and wondering why his squad had a look on their faces as if theyâ€™d seen a ghost. Marines in Lima Company think Garst is the luckiest guy in the battalion, and while that may seem a fair assessment, it actually was the enemyâ€™s shoddy work that left Garst alive and relatively uninjured. The three-liters of homemade explosive had only partially detonated. Marines who witnessed the event from inside the compound caught glimpses of Garstâ€™s feet flailing through the air just above the other side of the buildingâ€™s eight-foot-high walls. The explosion knocked him at least fifteen feet away, where he landed on his limp head and shoulders before immediately standing back up. Not quite sure of what had just happened, Garst turned back toward the blast, now nothing but a column of dirt and smoke rising toward the sun. Garst said heâ€™d immediately realized that heâ€™d encountered an IED. â€œThen I thought, â€˜Well Iâ€™m standing. Thatâ€™s good,â€™â€Â he recalled. Garst then directed his troops to establish a security perimeter while letting them know that he was OK. Garst also radioed back to base, calling for an explosive ordnance disposal team and a quick-reaction force. â€œI called them and said, â€˜Hey, I just got blown up. Get ready,â€™â€Â Garst recalled. â€œThe guy thought I was joking at first. â€˜You got blown up? Youâ€™re not calling me. Get out of here!â€™â€Â Once the area was cleared, Garst led his squad the four miles back to their observation post â€” just hours after heâ€™d been buffeted by the IED blast. â€œI wasnâ€™t going to let anybody else take my squad back after theyâ€™d been there for me,â€Â he said. â€œThatâ€™s my job.â€Â Garst awakened the next day with a pounding headache, he recalled, and felt as sore as heâ€™d ever been in his life. â€œJust getting up from trying to sleep was painful,â€Â he said. But he saw no reason being sore should slow him down. After a day of rest, Garst was back out on patrol, showing his Marines and the enemy that just like his resolve, he is unbreakable. July 21, 2010: By U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mark Fayloga- Regimental Combat Team 7
[caption id="attachment_3783" align="alignleft" width="300"]
Army Sgt. Maj. Kevin E. Smith is the network operations sergeant as well as the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the National Guardâ€™s Domestic All-Hazards Response Team-West. Smith is assigned to the 35th Infantry Division, Missouri Army Guard. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith, National Guard Bureau[/caption] FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. â€“ The Missouri Army National Guardâ€™s Sgt. Maj. Kevin E. Smith is the network operations manager and noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the National Guardâ€™s newest Domestic All-Hazards Response Team.
With 31 years of service, Smith knows a thing or two about the Guardâ€™s disaster response capabilities. From deadly heat waves, floods and hurricanes â€“ including Hurricane Katrina â€“ Smithâ€™s service with the 35th Infantry Division has mobilized him on state active duty many times to support his governor and governors of other states.â€œThe division was actually the National Guardâ€™s C2 [command and control] part of Hurricane Katrina [for Louisiana],â€Â Smith said. â€œWe had a work cell at Bell Chasse [Naval Air Station].â€Â Smith and others from the 35th division deployed here last week to participate in an exercise that tests the DART, which can be requested by state governors who need resources to assist civilian responders during a major disaster. The 35th divisionâ€™s DART-West is one of only two DARTs that encompass the Guardâ€™s major disaster coordination for the nation. The Pennsylvania Guardâ€™s 28th Infantry Division runs DART-East. DARTs provide disaster response assistance at a state governorâ€™s request when the stateâ€™s internal assets are exhausted or unavailable, Smith explained. DARTs also can provide assets, he added, through hurricane matrices and emergency management assistance compact agreements. â€œWe find those assets,â€Â he said, explaining that the DART establishes force packages that mobilize and deploy to a disaster area to meet the identified capability gaps. Those packages, Smith said, can provide Army and Air Guard capabilities, including command and control, special response teams, aviation, military police, engineer, transportation, medical, chemical and communications, among others. Army officials pointed out why infantry divisions are qualified to run DART in the serviceâ€™s 2010 Posture Statement: â€œThe DART concept utilizes the unique capabilities of a division headquarters for planning and coordinating the employment of units.â€Â Having deployed twice with the 35th divisionâ€™s headquarters, Smith possesses the requisite qualities and experience needed for a DART. He deployed to Multinational Division North in Bosnia as an operations NCO for the communications office there. He also deployed to Camp Bondsteel, the main Army base in Kosovo, and served as a first sergeant for military intelligence. DART members also use their skills and experiences from their civilian occupations, said Smith, who employs his skill as a commercial telecommunications specialist in international circuits and lines. In his DART role, Smith gets communications systems up and working when the teamâ€™s coordination cell is activated. In the exercise, the DART simulated its activation for a series of domestic disaster scenarios, including a wildfire, flood, hurricane, earthquake and terrorism. If a DART is ever activated to establish real-world force packages, Smith said, then â€œsomething very bad has happenedâ€Â to the nation. â€œWe hope we never have to use the DART,â€Â he said. â€œI hope my job is always easy â€¦ I never want to go to a big disaster.â€ÂJuly 20, 2010: By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith- National Guard Bureau ***SOT***
[caption id="attachment_3801" align="alignleft" width="299"]
Air Force Master Sgt. Dempsey Walker, left, talks with his brother, Army Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Walker, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 4, 2010. The brothers meet about once a week to talk and relax together while they are deployed. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Healy[/caption] BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistanâ€“ Two brothers from Atmore, Ala., who wear different uniforms have found themselves not only deployed to Afghanistan at the same time, but also assigned to the same location at this sprawling air base.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Dempsey Walker is a supply support activity platoon sergeant with Company A, Task Force Workhorse, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Falcon. He has spent 24 years in the Army, and is serving on his fourth deployment.His brother, Air Force Master Sgt. Nicholas Walker, is a computer systems manager with Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan. He has spent 17 years in the Air Force and is serving on his third deployment.â€œThis is the first time we have been deployed to the same base,â€Â Dempsey said. â€œWe were stationed in Korea at the same time and deployed to Iraq at the same time, but to different bases.â€Â Nicholas said his brother had been here for six months when he arrived. â€œIt makes life here a lot easier,â€Â he said, â€œhaving a family member so close who can relate to what you are doing.â€Â Dempsey said he was anxious to join the military and chose the Army because it was able to let him join three months earlier than the other services. Nicholas, however, was not as anxious, and said he made his decision based on the experiences of his brothers. â€œWe have an older brother that used to be in the Air Force,â€Â Nicholas explained. â€œAfter I talked to both my brothers, I decided the Air Force was right for me.â€Â Dempsey said he and Nicholas get together at least once a week to talk, go to church or just hang out. They usually eat at least one meal together whenever their schedules allow, he added. â€œIt is nice to have a family member here to talk to -- someone who is in the same location and situation and who can understand and relate to the types of problems that can pop up from time to time,â€Â Dempsey said. â€œIn times like these, it is good to have your brother by your side.â€Â July 16, 2010: By Army Sgt. Robert Healy- Task Force Falcon
[caption id="attachment_3795" align="alignleft" width="300"]
Army 1st Lt. Jessica Larson, a physician assistant with 307th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, treats an Iraqi child during a one-day, combined U.S.â€“Iraqi medical clinic in Kubaysah, Iraq, June 6, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Katie Summerhill[/caption] AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraqâ€“ During a clinical rotation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, physician assistant student Jessica Larson made up her mind to join the Army.
At the Center for the Intrepid, Larson worked with severely wounded warriors, and from them she drew a singular inspiration.â€œThey were still proud to be in the Army, and they were working really hard to rehabilitate themselves and to do the best they had with what they had,â€Â said Larson, now a physician assistant and a first lieutenant with the 82nd Airborne Divisionâ€™s 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, deployed in Iraq since August 2009.â€œâ€˜This is what life dealt me; this is what I am working with, and now itâ€™s time for me to move on. There is no feeling sorry for yourself here.â€™ That was the attitude that all the soldiers had,â€Â Larson said. â€œIt was really inspiring.â€Â At age 28, with years invested in a career designing airports for domestic and international markets, Larson, a Chicago native, decided she wanted more than a big paycheck and a corner office. â€œI asked myself, if I could start over and do anything at all, what would I do? And I realized that Iâ€™ve always wanted to be in medicine and never had the guts to try it,â€Â she said. Of all the career options, medicine was the one thing that resonated and stuck, Larson said. However, the Army was never part of the plan until she â€œmet someone who knew someoneâ€Â during PA school clinical rotations. The Army intrigued her, but Larson wanted to be sure she could handle being around the worst of combat injuries before committing. She recalled being deeply impressed by the bravery and stoicism of the severely wounded soldiers, including amputees, sheâ€™d met. â€œThat is when I made my decision to join the Army,â€Â Larson said. â€œIf these guys could give up multiple limbs for their country, the least I could do was to give three years of my life.â€Â Not too long after that, the newly-minted PA found herself caring for the soldiers of an airborne logistics unit, the 307th Brigade Support Battalion, deployed in Iraqâ€™s largest and historically most volatile province, al Anbar. â€œI found that in the military, I was catering to a completely different population than I thought I would be,â€Â said Larson, who initially wanted to practice international medicine in areas with little access to medical care, such as Africaâ€™s Swaziland. â€œMy guys â€“ the guys I treat â€“ are convoy security, and thatâ€™s not a very â€˜sexyâ€™ job and not often glorified. I really enjoy taking care of them,â€Â she said. â€œEven though itâ€™s not humanitarian aid in Africa, I feel like itâ€™s an incredibly worthy cause. I am very satisfied with it.â€Â As it turns out, through the advise-and-assist mission of professionalizing Iraqi security forces in Anbar, Larson also gets to care for people who might otherwise never receive medical attention. The U.S. paratroopers, she said, have sponsored temporary medical clinics for the poorer, more rural towns and villages up and down the western Euphrates River Valley in partnership with the Iraqi army, police and local doctors. Often, hundreds of ailing Iraqis, she noted, receive medical treatment at the clinics each day. Larson said some of her soldier-comrades are puzzled as to why she left her corner office and high-paying job for the Army. â€œI donâ€™t miss my former lifestyle at all,â€Â she emphasized. â€œI was miserable, and Iâ€™m not miserable now.â€Â She tells her younger medics that knowing what you donâ€™t want to do is just as important as knowing what you want to do. Donâ€™t do things just for the money and donâ€™t choose things because they are easy, she counsels them. When Larson joined the Army, she recalled, her mother was shocked, and cried. â€œMy mom was like, â€˜What are you doing? You are going to deploy. You could get hurt,â€™â€Â Larson said. â€œBut now my mother is the most ridiculously proud woman on the planet.â€Â The daily challenge of medicine, Larson said, is what keeps her enthused in her job. And, she added, unlike some other occupations, there always is more to learn in medicine. â€œItâ€™s worth it to me,â€Â Larson said. â€œItâ€™s an honor serving these guys who are fighting for us and out there doing the grunge work.â€Â July 15, 2010: By Army Sgt. Michael MacLeod- 1st Brigade, 82d Airborne Division Public Affairs Office