It was during the battle for Marjah, Afghanistan on March 10, 2010 that U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matt McElhinney was shot by a Taliban insurgent just below his body armour.
“I was pretty sure I was going to die,” McElhinney told Business Insider.
In a gripping narrative the former infantry machine-gunner with Lima Co., 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines posted to the website Reddit on Wednesday, he explained in gritty detail what went through his mind on that day. Right before it happened, he was trying to hop a gap. “It seemed clear,” he writes. “It wasn’t.”
He continues (lightly edited):
First you feel the round hit.
It feels like a sledge hammer hitting you in the back, my stomach felt like the worst incontinence imaginable. Then you paradoxically try to resume your task in the fight, until you realise your own bodily dysfunction. I started flailing and screaming as horribly as you could possibly imagine. I could hear people directing fire when someone saw me on the ground and started screaming like a banshee for a Corpsman. I could hear the corpsman call booming through the school house as I laid in the dirt writhing in agony and crazily pulling at the grass surrounding me, feebly attempting to displace the unmitigated sensation surging through me.
Then a warm pours over you, seeps through your body armour, pools down at your legs, and you can’t even see it, because the one time you attempted to roll and have a gander is the first time you blacked out.
McElhinney goes on to explain what he felt during the ambush, and how his fellow Marines, Afghan soldiers, and Navy Corpsmen fought back and kept him alive. A Stars and Stripes reporter on the patrol that day recalled him screaming “Oh God!” before falling face-down on a patch of grass, writhing in agony.
Soon, the medics responded — Navy Corpsmen, or “Docs” as Marines call them — and began patching him up and getting him ready for medical evacuation as gunfire erupted all around them. He writes (lightly edited):
People later told me that when [Doc] Pasqual arrived at the scene, he became machine like, straight faced tearing and shearing my shit, sweat, dirt and blood drenched cammys off my body. Doc Duhart gave me my first morphine jab, initially it just added to the surreality. Eventually though, the IV’s and morphine brought me enough capability to cope and come about somewhat.
Staff Sgt. Campbell dove into the prone in front of me and began screaming his face off at the ANA who were just dumping 240 belts in arbitrarily. He was asking me all kinds of questions to keep from blacking out again. “You got a girlfriend?” “You ready for a sweet ride McElhinney, just stay with us!” Imagine that the terror of your youth, the man who dragged through some of the most dick in dirt field ops that the most elite fighting force in world has to offer and every time you struggle or fuck up he is elated.
Now this man is laying down before you. You’re looking up at his dirty arse face [and] you realise that he’s terrified and doing everything in his power to do something of grave value. You see him trying to rip off your cammys, and then you see his gear go from shitty, dirty, digi-marpat, tan to a deep ominous red.
The reddit post titled “Almost” by McElhinney has gone viral, as The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe points out. The Marine is one of the thousands of troops who have been shot in Afghanistan, but one of the very few who is explaining to the public what that’s really like.
“I decided it was important for people to understand the gravity of our plight, so I felt that a raw account of my experience would cause a change in the way people think about us,” McElhinney told Business Insider of what he feels is an indifferent attitude toward wounded veterans among the American public. “I am a Marine, but for God’s sake I’m a human being too. I wanted that to be abundantly clear to the people who read my piece, that way we could no longer be faceless and ignored by our society.”
McElhinney was air-lifted to the hospital at Camp Bastion for medical treatment. His journey continued on to Bagram Air Base, then to Germany and finally to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
Despite his injuries four years ago, the now medically-discharged McElhinney told Business Insider, he’s still not fully recovered. “My internal organs are failing,” he said, “and [Veterans Affairs] was doing the usual about it.” The usual, he means, is that VA has taken too long to deliver the care he needs.
“Getting shot wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me,” McElhinney told Business Insider. “Being handed over to the [military medical boards]/VA system was. Those people ruined my life.”
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