In 2012, Sgt. Frankie Hernandez was on his 22nd mission in Afghanistan when an enemy bullet struck the top of his head.
Hernandez, a platoon sergeant with the 668th Engineer Company of the Orangeburg, New York Army Reserves, was operating an up-armored bulldozer while his platoon was helping to clear a road for an infantry unit operating between two towns in the Kandahar District.
It was late afternoon on May 22 when the unit had to stop and figure out what was the best route of approach, Hernandez recalled.
“Two infantry captains were leading the way,” he said. “I dismounted my dozer; we were looking at the map. And all of the sudden, we heard like a loud noise coming from the engine compartment of the bulldozer. All three of us turned and looked. The captain on my right looked at me and said ‘what was that?’”
They didn’t realize it right away, but the noise was an enemy bullet hitting the dozer’s engine block.
“As I turned to answer … I felt the impact on my helmet; I was kind of numb,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know what had happened, so I told the captain to my right I think I got hit.”
The second enemy bullet struck the top of Hernandez’s Advanced Combat Helmet and glanced off.
“It’s kind of hard to describe … one second you are normal, talking and then the next your whole body goes numb you get like a ringing sensation in your ear,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Four year later, Army equipment officials from Program Executive Office Soldier presented Staff Sgt. Hernandez with the helmet that saved his life that day during a Sept. 10 ceremony in Orangeburg, New York. The cross-section the ACH mounted on a plaque clearly shows where the bullet impacted.
“When we do a ceremony like this, what it does is say ‘hey, you are going to get the best equipment the Army can provide and two -- that it’s works,'” Col. Dean Hoffman, the head of Project Manager Soldier Protection & Individual Equipment said in an interview after the ceremony.
“He’s been shot, he went through two IEDs, but he still continues to be in the fight because he does what he loves, and it is our job at PEO Soldier to make sure he has the best equipment to be able to execute that mission.
Hernandez described being dazed but was still able to function after being shot.
“We all dropped to the ground to seek cover on the other side of the bull dozier,” he said. “I called for the other bull dozier to pull up to provide cover from fire and the infantry captain called for gun support.”
Hernandez said he was thankful to all the soldiers in his platoon that day.
“For a split second … it felt like I was alone and all of the sudden, I had backup out of everywhere, they came and they had my back. And that was such a relief,” he said.