USA — Face of Defense: Big Marine Unfazed by Enemy Bomb Blast

SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, Afghanistan — Marine Corps Cpl. Matt Garst con­tin­ues to do his job here, thanks to an ene­my-emplaced road­side bomb that mal­func­tioned.

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 bomb’s explo­sives did­n’t com­plete­ly det­o­nate. After spend­ing a day to rest and attend to some aches and pains, Garst con­tin­ued his mis­sion.
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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 Company’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 — 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 – 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 — 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.

“I can just bare­ly remem­ber the boom,” Garst recalled. “I remem­ber the start of a loud noise and then I blacked out.”

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 they’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 enemy’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 Garst’s feet flail­ing through the air just above the oth­er side of the building’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 he’d imme­di­ate­ly real­ized that he’d encoun­tered an IED.

“Then I thought, ‘Well I’m stand­ing. That’s good,’ ” 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.

“I called them and said, ‘Hey, I just got blown up. Get ready,’ ” Garst recalled. “The guy thought I was jok­ing at first. ‘You got blown up? You’re not call­ing me. Get out of here!’ ”

Once the area was cleared, Garst led his squad the four miles back to their obser­va­tion post — just hours after he’d been buf­fet­ed by the IED blast.

“I was­n’t going to let any­body else take my squad back after they’d been there for me,” he said. “That’s my job.”

Garst awak­ened the next day with a pound­ing headache, he recalled, and felt as sore as he’d ever been in his life.

“Just get­ting up from try­ing to sleep was painful,” 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.

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