JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- It was the day before the anniversary of Sept. 11 in 2011, when Staff Sgt. Samuel Lerman assumed his post for another 14-hour shift during his six-month deployment to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
On that day, the security forces member was assigned to a quick reaction force. For the Bethesda, Md., native, this meant detecting, deterring and neutralizing threats to the airfield. "Most of the time there's not much going on," Lerman said. "It's 90 percent boredom, 9 percent really interesting and 1 percent (when) everything goes wrong."
On that September day, this 1 percent happened late in the evening hours, Lerman said.
While on break in a nearby building, Lerman heard rockets scream past overhead, followed by several explosions. The explosions knocked out electricity to his sector and transformed his post into smoky, pitch-black chaos. Without hesitating, he leapt for his gear, slid a bullet into the chamber of his M-4 carbine and ran toward the threat.
Once outside he noticed a checkpoint facility in his search area was severely damaged. As a result of the rocket attack, two Afghan contractors were killed and many others were badly wounded. The contractors had been working alongside U.S. military forces, assisting the servicemembers with a security detail at the airfield. Lerman and his fellow security forces Airmen assisted three of the contractors, who were suffering from shrapnel wounds and screaming, by immediately stabilizing the victims on the ground and assessing their injuries.
Within minutes, they performed battlefield triage, placing emphasis on the most critically wounded individuals. Shifting between casualties, Lerman applied techniques learned during self-aid and buddy care training to control bleeding and keep the Afghan contractors alive until they could be transported to the base hospital.
With his individual first aid kit, or IFAK, in hand, Lerman turned his attention to an Afghan worker who had numerous injuries, including stomach and abdominal wounds, and who was losing a critical amount of blood. The injured Afghan was slipping in and out of consciousness. Lerman applied a dressing from his IFAK in an effort to stop additional bleeding.
"(He) was becoming less responsive with every second and his pulse was difficult to feel," he said of the victim. "We had to move him to the hospital soon."
Since ambulances and medical personnel had already arrived to pick up other casualties from the attack, Lerman had no option but to recruit additional Airmen and find a truck to transport the injured worker to the hospital on their own.
Speeding across the base, Lerman, a U.S. Department of Defense contractor and a fellow security forces Airman made their way to the hospital with the casualty, while Lerman worked desperately to keep him conscious in the bed of truck.
With each passing minute his efforts were met with difficulty, Lerman said.
"At one point (he) stopped moving. I quickly realized that he wasn't breathing any longer and his pulse was gone," Lerman said. "His chest was rock hard from being compressed with blood. We all thought he was going to die."
When the Afghan worker miraculously regained consciousness after their attempts to resuscitate him, Lerman said he took the opportunity to keep him alert by asking what his name was and whether he was married. Lerman lerned his name was Safiullah, and did anything to keep the man under his care awake and alive.
The group finally arrived at the hospital. Lerman explained to the surgeons what he knew about the injuries Safiullah suffered and the type of medical treatment that was provided.
After transporting the casualty to the hospital, Lerman was placed as a lookout in a tower to continue his mission.
"Every Defender is expected to do this type of work, whether you're deployed or at home station," Lerman said. "As a security forces member, it's your job to be the first ones there when things go wrong. I just happened to be there when something went wrong." Following the night's incident, Lerman checked in at the base hospital to find out what had happened to the three Afghan contractors who were admitted, including Safiullah. He discovered all three of the contractors survived. Safiullah had gone through several surgeries and was later sent home.
Master Sgt. James Reynolds, a member of the 103rd Security Forces Squadron, 103rd Airlift Wing, served with Lerman as the sector security forces NCO in charge during his deployment. Reynolds was alongside Lerman the night the rocket attacks injured Safiullah and other base personnel.
"It was my pleasure to work alongside Staff Sgt. Lerman," Reynolds said. "If it had not been for the proper combat life saving techniques and rapid transport, (Safiullah's) survival would have most certainly been in question." Lerman later visited the search area where the deadly rocket attack occurred to check on his battlefield patients just before returning home. Much to his surprise, he noticed that Safiullah was on his feet and working. As a token of his appreciation, Safiullah gave Lerman a locally-made Afghan scarf the day he returned to the area. "He thanked me over and over again," Lerman said. "Safiullah remembered looking up at me from the back of the pickup truck and me screaming at him over and over again to stay awake."