It’s part of the job for American medical teams to care for civilians caught up in the bloody mess of Afghanistan fighting, so when a call came over the radio January 12, to help an injured three-year-old girl, an Army medical team rushed to save her.The child had a bullet lodged in her back and had been doused by shrapnel, but when the medical unit arrived they found an even more pressing problem — a 22-year-old Marine Lance Corporal named Winder Perez had been hit as well — and the rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that had taken him down lay unexploded in his leg.
According to an Army report a frantic voice then exploded over the radio “the patient has (unintelligible) unexploded ordnance!”
The fact that the rocket had not gone off did not mean it wouldn’t, in fact RPGs detonate in a few ways — one is on impact, but another is with a time delayed fuse that usually burns down in a matter of seconds. That fuse could have been smouldering inside the round buried in Perez’s leg waiting to go off, and the whole medical team knew it.
It was a moment New Mexico National Guard Sgt. Robert Hardisty won’t forget. “First you land thinking it’s a little girl and the next thing it is a Marine with an unexploded RPG embedded in his body,” Hardisty said. “That call will be in my mind all my life.”
The level of danger absolved everyone involved of stepping away, of leaving Perez to wait it out on the ground until an explosives team could be brought in to remove the live rocket, but in the end, the decision fell to the pilot of the Black Hawk who would fly everybody out.
Capt. Kevin Doo spoke into his headset from the pilot’s seat of his chopper and told his crew the only way they were bringing Perez with them was if everyone agreed. Affirmative replies from every member promptly filled Doo’s headset and the Marine was quickly brought aboard.
“There was no doubt to anyone that we were going to take this Marine and get him the medical attention needed to save his life,” Doo said. “When dealing with this, [it was stressful] knowing that any moment could be your last. Eighteen inches from the patient’s legs was about 360 gallons of aviation fuel.“
It took only 11 minutes to get Perez to the hospital, but Doo said every minute felt like an hour.
When they got back on the ground, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team was waiting and ready to go, but one medical member had to be there to treat the wound as the round was removed.
That job fell to Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari, and after the EOD soldier tugged on the rocket three times, it finally slipped free of Perez’s leg and Gennari was able to do what needed to be done to save the man’s life.
“I said a prayer, and I thanked God for everything I had…” Lieutenant Commander Gennari told CNN.
“Whether or not the grenade was gonna blow up, I left it to Him, and I just worried about keeping Lance Corporal [Perez’s] airway open.”
Thanks to everyone’s efforts and bravery Corporal Perez is alive and doing well at a military hospital.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.