Photo: Department of defence
When U.S. Army Special Forces entered a Taliban village in western Afghanistan back in 2009, they had one man with them to coordinate the vital air support that would keep them alive.His name is Robert Gutierrez and shortly into the fight he was hit with an armour piercing round that tore through his chest and shoulder.
“I’ve seen those types of injuries before, and time isn’t your friend,” Gutierrez said later. “I thought, ‘I have three minutes before I’m going to die. I’ve got to do something big. Based on that time frame, I’m going to change the world in three minutes.‘”
With Taliban fighters shooting down on his platoon from rooftops just 10 feet from their position, Gutierrez maintained radio contact with airmen overhead to keep the enemy from killing them all. His efforts earned him the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism late last month.
The four-hour firefight included sniper and small-arms fire, as well as rocket propelled grenades attacks. Though Gutierrez lost five pints of blood and walked over a mile, he maintained constant radio contact.
Soldiers on the ground attempting to treat Gutierrez said he refused to remove his body armour because it held his radio, relenting only for a moment so the medic could insert a tube below his collarbone. The move kept his lung from collapsing, allowing him to continue breathing and speaking into the radio.
The A-10 pilot talking to him on the ground said he had no idea Gutierrez was wounded, that his voice was calm the whole time, and only realised the man was injured when his team moved to the medical landing zone.
“He said he would be off of the mic for a few to handle his gunshot wounds,” Air Force Capt. Ethan Sabin said. “Until that point he was calm, cool and collected.”
When it was all over Gutierrez had taken a bullet to the upper shoulder, triceps, left chest and lateral muscle causing two broken ribs, a broken scapula, and a softball-sized hole in his back.
He suffered a collapsed lung and multiple blood infections, which required three chest tubes, three blood transfusions and seven surgeries.
To top it off the 30 mm strafing runs from the A-10 he was calling in ruptured both of his eardrums.
Gutierrez is only the second living recipient of the Air Force Cross since 9/11 and he is now assigned a training role at the Special Operations Training centre at Pope AFB, N.C.
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