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Military

By Army Spc. James Wilton

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Soldier Survives Gunshot to Helmet
(June 19, 2011)

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June 13, 2011 - U.S. Army Spc. Tom Albers, 20, of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Redhorse, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, TF Red Bulls, and infantryman from Alton, Iowa, stands outside the Troop C command office healthy, happy and ready for battle even after taking a round of enemy fire to the helmet two weeks prior.
June 13, 2011 - U.S. Army Spc. Tom Albers, 20, of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Redhorse, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, TF Red Bulls, and infantryman from Alton, Iowa, stands outside the Troop C command office healthy, happy and ready for battle even after taking a round of enemy fire to the helmet two weeks prior.
 BAGRAM, Afghanistan (6/16/2011) – “There is something I need to tell you” are not the words any mother wants to hear from her son who is deployed to Afghanistan.

This time U.S. Army Spc. Tom Albers, a Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Redhorse, driver and infantryman from Alton, Iowa, had good news, considering the alternative.

“I am fine and healthy and not hurt, everything is OK but,” said Albers to his mother over the phone, “I have been shot in the helmet.”

“You were wearing the helmet right,” his mother responded, said Albers.

The phone call was made from Craig Joint Theater Hospital on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 28.

Albers and his team were conducting a dismounted joint presence patrol earlier that day in Parwan province when the Afghan national police officers they were teamed with spotted an individual they knew to be associated with insurgent forces. While searching a hillside for the individual, the team came under fire.

“My head cleared the hill ... I saw a house on my right and as I was in the middle of saying ‘Hey I got a house over here,' when I heard the first shot,” said Albers “It
felt something hit me in the side of the helmet and was knocked to the ground. It felt like someone had hit me in the head with a wooden baseball bat.”
The team quickly took cover and responded with fire on the building. Albers was momentarily stunned, but after checking himself and realizing he was still alive, he regained his bearings and took up a position to return fire.

“I laid there for what seemed like five minutes but realized later that it was just a couple of seconds, I thought to myself, “Am I dying? No I don't really think so,” Albers said. “Felt my head, no blood or anything, so I thought ‘okay what just happened to me?' I was confused but I turned around and started laying down fire from the direction it had come from.”

Albers and the joint terminal attack controller were on one side of the building while the rest of the team was 50 to 100 meters away on the other side. They were taking heavy fire so they decided to pull back and join the rest of the team.

“I was just getting plinked at, rounds were hitting in a consistent, natural firing rhythm, but I look up at Albers and his position is just getting obliterated, he was covered in dust,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Roland, the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron JTAC from Tacoma, Wash., who was attached to Albers' team that day. “Someone was going full-auto on his position, so I yelled up at him and told him to move.”

The group provided suppressive fire so Albers and Roland could pull back and regroup with the rest of team who were taking cover behind a building and wall.

“It really surprised me, from the moment I thought, ‘OK, I am fine, and there is no blood running down my face,' until after we met up with the lieutenant, I don't really remember anything,” said Albers. “I think that is because I wasn't thinking, I was reacting, doing what needed to be done; covering fire, moving back, whatever it was. I think that was all because of our training, muscle memory kicked in. It made me think, all that time we spent training wasn't stupid, it wasn't pointless, it is needed and it works.”

Albers reacted like he was trained to, and he seemed responsive and aware said Roland. The only part that seemed strange to his fellow team member was a question he kept asking.

“Albers did fine, the only thing that was funny is as we fell back, I realized something is little weird with Albers. He keeps asking about his helmet,” said Roland. “It feels like something hit his helmet, he wants me to look at his helmet, I say ‘I don't care about your helmet, I want you to (watch) to the north because if we get attacked they're going to come from the North.'”

The team called in air support and enemy fire subsided enough to assess the situation. One ANP suffered a wound to his backside, so medics were called to attend to him. Albers even assisted the medic with the other injured teammate.

“At that time, the medic had time to check on Albers and he realizes that he got shot in the helmet,” said Roland. “He passes this on to the lieutenant who decides it is time to pull back.”

As they began pulling out, Albers said he finally realized the seriousness of what just happened.

“I was pulling security and just keep thinking to myself, ‘I just got shot in the head,' I would hear something and move and again think, ‘I just got shot in the head, what just happened?'” said Albers.

The events that day stuck in his mind for days to come said Albers. They serve as a reminder to stay vigilant. The smile on his face at the hospital, would also serve as a reminder to enjoy every day, no matter how tough.

Medics evacuated Albers, and after hospital staff gave him a battery of tests, they found him to be perfectly healthy, minus a small burn mark across the top of his head.

The patrol that day was a normal day for any infantryman with risks every soldier has a chance of facing. Albers knew this, but he wanted to be in the military ever since he could remember.

“According to my parents I have wanted to join the military since I could talk, it was either Marines, Air Force, this, that,” said Albers.

When he was 17, Albers spoke with a recruiter, who is now a first sergeant in the same squadron, and decided the time was right. Now 20, he said he feels the deployment is going well and has enjoyed every part of his three-year military career. Albers is the only member of his large family currently in the military, but his father and grandfather are both veterans.

“My favorite part is the camaraderie, especially after this incident. Everyone has been very supportive,” said Albers. “They are all like my brothers now.”

The team takes their roles as brothers very seriously. They watched over him at first, making sure he was doing all right.

“Everyone was cool about it. Everyone was here for me, making sure I was OK and if I had to talk to anybody they were here for me,” said Albers “We joke around about it, now that I they know I am fine, and now that I got the Purple Heart, ‘Oh the one-upper, had to get the Purple Heart.'”

Albers' 15 minutes of fame is a big part of the jokes shared about the team. These simple actions prove to Albers that they care and also help him to not take the incident too seriously. His family has also helped to keep him smiling about the incident.

“My nephew, Talon, got on his mom's (social media page) and sent me a message, ‘I am glad you're OK, but no more messing around, that was scary, don't be messing around anymore,'” said Albers.

The 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry, will be in Afghanistan for another month or two, and after, Albers said he is looking forward to spending time with family and friends and going back to school when he returns.

The shot has not deterred his desire to be in the military, and he plans to reenlist when his current contract ends. Albers plans to stay in the infantry and has hopes to move up in the ranks becoming a squad or platoon sergeant.

The helmet, which will be sent to his house after military officials examine it, will serve as a good training tool to teach his Soldiers the importance of proper wear of their protective equipment or at the very least, keep their heads down

Article and photo by Army Spc. James Wilton
Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan
Copyright 2011

Provided through DVIDS

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