Face of Defense: Soldier Shows Courage Under Fire

PAKTIA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — “It kind of felt like Chuck Nor­ris kicked me in the side,” is how Army Pfc. Phillip Mex­cur described how it feels to get shot.
But that’s the extent of the the­atrics Mex­cur will offer in his nar­ra­tion of the day he was hit by two rounds of sniper fire, a sto­ry he tells in a tone so sub­tle that his voice bare­ly reach­es above a whis­per, as if he were telling a bed­time sto­ry rather than a near-death expe­ri­ence.

For most sol­diers, this would be the end of the sto­ry, but not for the 22-year-old fire sup­port spe­cial­ist from Con­cord, N.H., with the Ver­mont Nation­al Guard’s 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 172nd Infantry Reg­i­ment. Dur­ing a Sept. 25 patrol here near the vil­lage of Yazeen on the two-year anniver­sary of his grad­u­a­tion from basic train­ing, he was hit with two rounds of sniper fire. The rounds were stopped by the side plate of his body armor.

Imme­di­ate­ly after real­iz­ing he was­n’t injured, Mex­cur per­formed a casu­al­ty assess­ment of his pla­toon sergeant, gave the dis­tance and direc­tion of the sniper fire and direct­ed close-air sup­port, all with­in two min­utes of being shot.

“I was­n’t hurt, so there was no point in not doing my job,” he said. “Even if I was bleed­ing out, I’d still want to do my job.”

After the sec­ond shot, he dropped to the ground and his squad leader, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Smith of North Haverville, N.H., checked him out. After Rogers deter­mined he was OK, Mex­cur said, his first con­cern was his pla­toon sergeant, Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Keir­nan of Mer­ri­mack, N.H., who was hit by the sniper fire in the foot. Mexcur’s train­ing as a fire sup­port spe­cial­ist kicked in, and he got on the radio.

“He instant­ly got on the radio and start­ed call­ing in [close-air sup­port]. That’s when the F‑16 came out of nowhere,” said Army Sgt. Dustin Rogers, Mexcur’s team leader from Peter­burough, N.H. “That’s the type of guy he is. He’s way more mature than his rank. He is real­ly into his job.”

Mex­cur want­ed to call in a med­ical evac­u­a­tion heli­copter for Keir­nan, but Keir­nan would­n’t allow it. “He did not want to give the ene­my the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing they wound­ed one of us,” Mex­cur recalled. So instead, Rogers went to a local vil­lager and bought a wheel­bar­row for $10 and used that to get Keir­nan back to their trucks.

Keir­nan still was able to give some direc­tion to his sol­diers, but Mex­cur saw he need­ed help. So the pri­vate first class, with just two years in the Army, stepped in to lead along­side his pla­toon sergeant.

“Thir­ty per­cent [of the orders] were com­ing out of his mouth. For the rest, I just knew what need­ed to get done,” Mex­cur said.

For Mex­cur, it was not a big deal.

“I have a dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at things,” he said. “I respect the rank, but I did­n’t do any­thing that a per­son my age, with my expe­ri­ence, should­n’t have. I guess it is just the way our par­ents raised us.”

Some of the oth­er sol­diers say Mex­cur is blessed with the luck of the Irish. Mex­cur even wears a Celtic cross in his Kevlar band.

“I kept it in my pock­et until that day, when I put it in my Kevlar band, … and then I got shot,” Mex­cur said as mat­ter-of-fact­ly as if he were telling you his favorite col­or.

Despite any luck that may have been involved Sept. 25, it was Mexcur’s even-keeled nature and uncan­ny matu­ri­ty that gave him the abil­i­ty to rise to the occa­sion and per­form well above his rank, Rogers said. These qual­i­ties, com­bined with his intense com­mit­ment to his job and fel­low sol­diers, are what make Mexcur’s future in the Army a bright one, he added.

“He real­ly is a pro­fes­sion­al — one of the guys who gets stuff done,” Rogers said. “He’s one of the few guys you can real­ly rely on.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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