Face of Defense: Soldier Survives Gunshot to Helmet

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — “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.
But this time, 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.

Army Spc. Tom Albers, of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment, Task Force Red­horse, stands out­side the Troop C com­mand office June 13, 2011, ready for bat­tle, after tak­ing a round of ene­my fire to the hel­met two weeks pri­or.
U.S. Army pho­to by Spc. James Wilton
Click to enlarge

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

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

Albers and his team were con­duct­ing a patrol ear­li­er that day in Par­wan province when the Afghan police offi­cers they were teamed with spot­ted an indi­vid­ual asso­ci­at­ed with insur­gent forces. While search­ing a hill­side, 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,” Albers said. “I 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 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, ‘OK. 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 Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Roland, the 116th Air Sup­port Oper­a­tions Squadron joint ter­mi­nal attack con­troller 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,” Albers said. “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, Roland said. 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,” Roland said. “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 Afghan police offi­cer was injured, so medics were called to attend to him. Albers 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,” Roland said. “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 had 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?’ ” Albers said.

The events that day stuck in his mind for days to come, he said, and serve as a reminder to stay vig­i­lant and 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 one for any infantry­man fac­ing risks that accom­pa­ny a deploy­ment to a com­bat zone. 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,” Albers said.

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 at age 20, he said he feels the deploy­ment is going well and has enjoyed every part of his three-year mil­i­tary career. He 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,” Albers said. “They are all like my broth­ers now.” The team watched over him at first, mak­ing sure he was doing all right, he said.

“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,” Albers said. “We joke around about it, now that I they know I am fine, and now that I got the Pur­ple Heart.”

Albers’ expe­ri­ence a big part of the jokes shared about the team. These sim­ple actions prove to Albers that they care and help him to not take the inci­dent too seri­ous­ly. His fam­i­ly also has 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,’ ” Albers recalled.

The 1st Squadron, 113th Cav­al­ry, will be in Afghanistan for anoth­er month or two, and after­ward, 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 to become a squad or pla­toon sergeant.

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

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

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