BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Air Force 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron members had just finished dinner and were on the way back to their compound on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, June 18. Heading south on a perimeter road, they passed a bus stop located about 50 yards from their compound, where service members were waiting outside to catch a ride. They could see their compound through the windows of the truck. As they were turning, they heard a loud boom; then saw a cloud of dust fill the air, followed by complete darkness.
"At first we thought it was a generator exploding because the power went out," said Tech. Sgt. Eric Wearing, 455th ESFS, noncommissioned officer in charge of physical security. "Then I could feel the impact in the vehicle after it hit and the vehicle was surrounded by ashes and I knew it was something more serious."
That's when Capt. Andrew York, 455th ESFS officer in charge of the sector, directed Master Sgt. Joshua Clarke, his sector noncommissioned officer in charge, the driver at the time, to position the vehicle as close to their command post and they dismounted.
"After taking cover in the vehicle, as first responders, we [the four SF members in the truck] immediately ran to our sector to see what assistance we could provide," said York, a native of Columbia, S.C.
Because of the IDF's proximity in the compound, many SF members were able to provide support in different ways to ensure the safety of those in the area and the mission.
"After we got out of the vehicle, the captain started giving us direction and I went to the command post where the power was completely out," said Clarke, deployed from Fargo, N.D., Air National Guard. "The only thing we could use for communication was a radio. So I sent Airman 1st Class Tina Venable to conduct accountability of our off duty personnel"
Staff Sgt. Joshua Gary, noncommissioned officer in charge of supply and logistics for sector, and was instrumental to getting the power back on.
"I heard screaming and calls for supplies," said Gary deployed from Fargo, N.D., ANG. "So I immediately ran over to my supply warehouse to grab as many combat lifesaver bags as I could to give to the members providing care to the wounded. From there I began working to get the power back up and distributing extra ammo because we thought there was going to be follow-on attack."
According to the SF members, the power went out simultaneously as the IDF attack impacted.
"There was zero power," said York deployed from Lajes Field, Azores. "Everything was out including cameras and phones. Once Gary got the backup generators and light-alls units working around the perimeter, we were able to have better situational awareness and be ready for a follow-on attack. Without him, we wouldn't have had any power at all."
But since York, Clarke, Wearing and Venable, were the first able-body members to respond to the injured outside, they had to provide care in the dark using only available light and flashlights.
"There were people everywhere walking around dazed and confused," said Wearing. "I went up to the very first person I could see and he had his arm out trying to speak."
Wearing said he assured the member he was going to be okay and went through the basic lifesaving procedures beginning with sweeps of his body.
"That's when I noticed he had a large hole about the size of my fist in his chest and an injury to the leg," said Wearing, who is deployed from Pittsburgh ANG. "York put direct pressure on the chest to stop the bleeding and I used my own tourniquet on his leg. Then I looked at Capt. York and said, 'We need to CASEVAC [casualty evacuate] him right away' because the ambulance is seven minutes out and we can't wait that long.'"
Wearing was only on scene for roughly five minutes before he accompanied two casualties to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital.
Wearing was the only member who treated the casualties in the CASEVAC and he stayed at the hospital after that to help injured members as they came into the emergency room. The following sector members stayed on the compound providing self-aid buddy care to the remaining injured personnel and to defend the perimeter.
"This was the closest I have ever been to an IDF impact," said Wearing, a native of Evans City, Pa. "I can play it back a million times in my head, but all I remember is the training we receive just clicked and worked."
The members described it as muscle memory, stating there is a reason Air Force members are made to go through all the mandatory training. "It really restores faith in all our training," said York. "We do a lot of battle drills here and there's a lot of comments that you shouldn't train in combat environment. But in reality, our training is what kept us from freezing and put us on autopilot to do what we had to do. We were all combat effective."
For Venable, who is on her first deployment, was one of the first five Air Force members who provided first aid assistance on the scene. She said this was her first combat experience and the military's training helped prepare her for it.
"A tech school instructor once told me, 'you never rise to the occasion, you always fall back on your training,' and that was playing over in my head," said Venable deployed from Fort Worth, Texas ANG. "Get repetitive and know and replenish what's in your individual first aid kit because you never know when you're going to have to use it."
After finishing their shift and the adrenaline wore off, two days later, the members were recommended by leadership to go to the hospital to talk to combat stress about the attack.
"Directly after the attack I walked outside and as we were waiting for our leadership, I got down on one knee and had to take a couple breaths in disbelief like, 'did this just happen or is it a dream?', We were so close and not a scratch on us," said York.
The five ESFS members who treated the injured said the assistance and support from the medical community and leadership was helpful, but the best thing that helped them combat the stress from the attack was sitting around the table together talking about the events that night.
"The more we talked about it, the better it got, we were the only members who saw it firsthand," said York. "Then we got comfortable enough to go talk to the other SF members in our sector who were working that night and heard what was going on but didn't see it, that helped too."
The security forces members lives were almost lost the night but thier efforts did not go unnoticed. The five members were recognized during an Army Fallen Hero Ceremony here; then a couple days later, an even bigger surprise.
"Talk about closure," said Wearing. "An airman in our unit went to high school with one of the injured Army members from that night. He was stationed here with her and still talks to her on Facebook. One day on shift he came up to me." "'He said, 'Morris wanted me to tell you thank you.'
"I said, 'who's Morris?"
"'He said, 'She was the girl you transported in the CASEVAC with an injured leg. She wanted me to tell you all thanks for saving her life. She is in Germany now and doing well.'"