Face of Defense: Airman Reflects on Saving Team Leaders' Life
By Capt. Michael Meridith, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GARDEZ, Afghanistan, Dec. 21, 2007 - As he sat eating breakfast Dec. 7, Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Eberhard had no idea that he was just hours away from a struggle to save the life of the airman sitting next to him.
The Salt Lake City, Utah, native and former Marine was enjoying a brief pause before another demanding day as a member of a three-person explosive ordnance disposal team based here.
"We were out with a route-clearance team for a medical engagement and had spent the night at a local village," Eberhard said. "We ate breakfast and were waiting for the medical engagement to end so we could do the route clearance back."
Although they weren't scheduled to leave the village until later that day, they were surprised by word that an improvised explosive device had been spotted a short distance away by Afghan National Police.
"We got to the scene and talked to the policeman who found it; he had been on patrol and saw something suspicious in a culvert under a bridge and reported it. The bystanders were being kept at a distance, so we dressed out our team leader in a bomb suit, and he went down into the culvert," he said.
While their team leader examined the IED, Eberhard and his fellow teammate kept a constant watch from their armored joint EOD rapid-response vehicle.
"I was sitting in the front seat when I saw the blast. I still see that flash in my mind," Eberhard said.
Moments after the IED exploded, he leapt from the vehicle and raced to the scene, waving medics forward to follow him.
"I didn't know what to expect; I just knew that I needed to get down there and assess the situation. When I got there, I saw him laying on the ground and saw that his leg and arm were severely injured, but his bomb suit was pretty much intact."
After ensuring no further threat from IEDs, Eberhard finally gave the medics the go-ahead to approach the wounded airman. At the same time, he began to act.
"When I got to him he was trying to sit up, but I made him lay back down. At first, all he could say is, 'It hurts bad. ' But we were glad that he was coherent, and we wanted him to stay that way."
To keep the wounded airman conscious, Eberhard elevated the uninjured leg to force blood back to the core of the body. With that accomplished, he started a tourniquet for the wounded arm while the medic tended to the leg.
"In my mind I knew his arm needed a tourniquet, so I just reached over and grabbed it. I didn't ask anyone, I just did it. He was coherent enough that he was actually helping us by telling us what to do. He told me, 'My arm needs to be tighter,' and I tightened the tourniquet."
With the bleeding controlled and an IV started, Eberhard reported the incident and then helped move his wounded team leader to a field to await helicopter medical evacuation.
"I just talked to him and tried to keep him awake," he said. "We talked about football and video games; we're both pretty competitive about it. Not long after that, I ran back and got him a satellite phone and let him talk to his wife. She was extremely grateful, and he was too. It was one of the things that kept him alert. He was talking to his wife, and because of that he knew he couldn't pass out."
Soon afterward, Eberhard said goodbye as his wounded comrade was taken away to medical care. Eberhard later learned that his team leader lost part of his leg, but was expected to recover.
Over the past few weeks, Eberhard has had time to reflect on that day. At the time, he said, he was mostly driven by instinct, which he credits to the combat-skills training he received before deploying. But he makes it clear that he does not consider himself a hero.
"Everyone is calling me a hero, but it is a weird position to be in," he said. "My definition of a hero is someone who does something they don't have to do in a situation they don't have to be in. No one forced me to be here. I'm a reservist. There was nothing saying I had to deploy; I wanted to. I wanted to let someone on active duty take an extra six-month break and be home with their family."
Despite the events of the day, Eberhard said he has no regrets about volunteering to deploy. In fact, he said the deployment experience has left him with some valuable insights he will carry with him to his home unit, 419th Civil Engineer Squadron, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
"The biggest thing I learned is that if we focus on being the servants, not the masters, and look at deployments as a way to serve our fellow man, it changes the outlook we have on deployments, and it makes a big difference in the lives of the Afghan people," he said.
(Air Force Capt. Michael Meridith is assigned to 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)