tv Oral Histories Patty Justice Witness to War CSPAN December 27, 2021 3:36pm-4:47pm EST
you can find them all on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. up next on american history tv, we hear from patty justice, who served in afghanistan during operation "enduring freedom" with the medical training support battalion first medical training brigade. she describes her experiences, including treating local civilians and encounters with the taliban. >> patty justice, j-u-s-t-i-c-e, the 7303rd medical training support battalion. how are you doing today, patty? >> doing great. thank you. >> where you from originally? >> i'm originally from mexico city, mexico.
i was born there because my father was a vice president of a steel mill. he was looking for something to do but more extravagant, left the united states, and that's how i was there. >> and how long did you live in mexico city? >> we lived there until i was eight years old. and after the devaluation of the peso, it was time to move back here to the united states. >> and any memorable stories from your time growing up in mexico city? >> just went to a british school, bilingual as well. and after that, as i said, came up here to the united states. and unfortunately had a very thick spanish accident, which my mother absolutely was just accord about. so, we had to relearn the english language up here. >> where in the united states did you move to? >> we moved to several places here. after we moved here, my father decided to consult four steel companies. so, our first destination was florida. so, that wasn't too bad.
we were with a spanish -- that wasn't too bad at all. >> and tell me how you came to join the army. and did anyone in your family serve the military prior to you? >> no one's really served the military prior to me. but my father was part of the manhattan project. >> in what capacity? >> he was part of the -- he was met met lurchic engineer. after the atomic bomb went off, he knew exactly what was going on. very secretive. that's really the major thing with the family. after that in high school in california, because we moved to california, we basically -- i basically did jrotc. got a scholarship to go to new mexico military institute. and that's how my military career first started off. >> and how did you become interested in rotc?
>> i always liked it. i always saw the jrotc with their uniforms, and i thought, well, let's try it. let's see what, you know, what comes about. and so i just loved it. and that's how i started into the military. >> any memorable experiences at academy? >> at the new mexico military institute, it's a two-year school where you can actually get an appointment through west point as well. so, during that time, i was getting geared up to go to west point. unfortunately when we had to go to advanced camp, i ruined my right knee. so, that got me out of contention. so, the military school basically said, you can stay here. of course i lost my rotc scholarship. and you can get an associate's degree and go from there. so, that kind of squashed my military career at that time.
pretty much we were doing escape and evasion at night. and we have huge platoons. and we would go running off into the darkness. and unfortunately with the momentum of bigger guys behind me, they always put the shorties and the tall ones behind us, kind of got shoved and that's what happened. >> so, after you lost your scholarship, what did you do? >> i went to an all-girl catholic school after that. so, from an all male academy pretty much to an all female college. received a ba in business administration. at the time it was, as i said, an all girl catholic school. and that was in los angeles, california. >> and where did you get your ba? >> after that i started working for northrop electronics,
defense contractor. i was an associate contracts administrator. and i got a -- started to get a taste of the middle east because i used to do some negotiations with the saudis right before "desert storm." >> and what interested you about the middle east? >> first of all all the correspondence was not local. it was all through -- i guess not -- well, email and paper. if they found out that they were negotiating with a female, then that would have been it. so, pretty much i was p. and then my last maiden name. so, it was interesting. it was interesting. >> and then what happened when "desert storm" hit? >> once "desert storm" hit, northrop got busy. we basically did the awax and
the savers and the small electronic. that was my contract. and then of course after that, the cold war kind of ended as well. so, a lot of the contracts fell. our contracts with the saudis and the riyadh was fulfilled, let's say. so, everything started to cool down. >> and how much longer did you stay at northrop? >> i was there for three years. and then, as i said, the defense contracting started to go down a little bit. so, there was writing on the wall besides that i was, you know, the bottom. so, i was, like, well, i guess i better start looking for a new job. so, my sister at the time lived here in georgia. she said, i want you to come out here so we can find out here. and that's how i came to live here in georgia now. >> and what you got to georgia, what did you do? >> i actually started working
for a hospital in the hr department. and after seeing what the nurses were doing, i thought, well, you know what? i can do that. so, then i started going to nursing school here in georgia at gordon college. >> and how was nursing school compared to all the other schools you had been through? >> it was a little different. again, medical. so, that was a 180 from business. it was pretty serious. i figure if i don't do well here, then what am i going to do next? so, i did get my adn, that's a two-year degree at the time at gordon college. >> anything you were able to cross over from business or technological training? >> no. nothing at all. so, as i say, it was a 180. it was a 180. of course, you know, science, and it was just totally different. >> once you got the adn, what happened? >> after i got my adn, i did
start working my first job as a psychiatric nurse down in lagrange, which i really loved. but the traveling was a little bit too far. it over an hour, hour and a half. and i was at that time thinking, well, i'm a little bit over than most of the graduates from the nursing school. i've got to get going. i've got to be more competitive. so, i decided to come back up around where i live here and started the medical search. that was interesting as well. a little bit more nursing than just the psychiatric side of the house. >> and anything memorable happen? >> not really. it was just a lot of patience, staffing issues like we still have today. so, it was a good growing experience. you had an adapt to change a lot. a lot. >> and i assumed you were doing this during 9/11. is that correct?
>> during that time, yes. i -- before 9/11, i decided, again, to change my nursing specialty. so, from psychiatric to med surge, i had a little bit of icu during that time as well. but i then decided let's try the operating room. that sounds a little bit more fun. so, right before 9/11 i became an o.r. nurse. so, when 9/11 hit, i figured, well, let's see what i can do. so, i got a little postcard in the mail that said we need nurses in the army. they had basically upped the age limit at the time. so, i went to the health care recruiter. at first he was like, are you kidding me?
is this a joke? because at that time i was 38. already had by bsn because i still continued on my education. he was like, no way. is someone making a joke. so, i said, no, i would like to do this. okay. let's start doing it. so, we did the paperwork. i passed the physical. everything that needed to be done. so, then i got a direct commission. and it was funny because i thought to myself, i could have done all this without going through all that at basic at the institute. but looking back, i'm glad i did all that, especially when i went out to afghanistan. >> so, once you got your commission, where did they send you? >> my first mobilization was at brook army medical center in san antonio. that was during "operation iraqi
freedom." and that was where i got to experience the back end of what happens to the soldier after he has been through different levels of care. brook garmon medical center was the last level of care for the soldiers. so, basically we got them, and that's where we did the multiple surgeries to get them, you know, stabilized and back on ground as soon as possible. >> any memorable soldiers that you met? >> my first soldier was tyler ziegler. i don't know if you remember him or not. he was the one that was in a terrible fire fight and got hurt and burned. and he was on "people" magazine. he was on "oprah" show. we were together -- i say
together meaning in the operating room at least 42 times to get him going. so, yeah, that was memorable. that was my memorable soldier. >> and in what capacity were you helping him in the surgery room? >> pretty much when he first came in was the burns. we had to take care of him. he was pretty broken up. but the big thing was to get him back mentally, physically, we had to get him to a point that he can do his daily living just to pick up things because he did lose his right arm. so, we needed to fix his left arm because he had lost some of his fingers and his thumb. so, we had to get him going as well. he had a lot of surgeries. so, yeah. we got him going. but we got him going. so, he lived for a while. and i just found out that he just passed away though,
unfortunately. but it happens. it happens. >> tell me what a day in the life at brook army medical center was like. was it pretty hectic all the time? >> it was hectic. during that time it was the fluz i can't campaign. so, we were getting a lot of soldiers from other area of iraq. since we were reservists there, my battalion was mobilized, as i stated from here because a lot of the army nurses there at brook, were being deployed over to iraq. so, we augmented for them. so, it was -- it was crazy. it was a crazy time. very busy all the time. the 40-hour week, forget it. we didn't see 40 hours a week. if we saw 60, we were lucky. and it just wasn't monday through friday either. we were on call. as i said, busy, busy time. and that's how a lot of the
fisher houses started. yeah, it was busy. >> and were you staying pretty close to the camp itself? >> yes. luckily when we were moved, we were afforded live on base. at the time, again, it was busy and full. so we had to live in apartments, which was nice. we had our own vehicles because all drove from here to texas. so at least we were able to have povs. but, as i said, it was busy. one day -- i came home one night and i still had my uniform on, i sat on my couch. the next thing i knew, i was waking up the next morning still in my uniform right before work. i was so tired. but that's what we had to do. >> how long did you stay at brooke army medical? >> we were there 18 months. that was a long mobilization.
but again, it was a good learning and growing process. >> did you serve with anybody else that stands out in your mind during your time there? >> there were so many great people, just so many different guys and gals coming through. they were all great. >> so where did they send you after brooke? >> after brooke, then everything kind of settled down for the battalion. and then again, i got the itch to do something different. and i had gotten to know a command sergeant major, and i would keep in touch with him. and he was from texas. and he said, well, why don't you come to my battalion. i was like, what battalion are you in? he goes, civil affairs unit. i thought, well, that would be fun. and he said, well, we need nurses, do you want to do it? i said, okay, i'll do it. so i transferred from my medical battalion to the civil affairs battalion. and i was with them for about two years, i believe, learned
the operational and tactical side where nurses don't get that type of training, and the various -- they're called moss where they're engineers, military intelligence, all sorts of other disciplines, let's say, are all mixed in the civil affairs. you get away from the medical for a while, but being the nurse there, i was only one out of two nurses to take care of our unit. so if there's any questions, concerns, or getting ready to do any medical-type things, we were the subject experts for medical. so that was pretty cool. that was pretty cool. so i basically ramped them up when they were getting ready to go to africa. so that was pretty cool. that was pretty cool. then, unfortunately, i was up
for promotion, and they didn't have a slot for me. because everything has to go by slots and qualifications. as i said, unfortunately, i had to leave the civil affairs unit, but all of a sudden, i got a phone call from a combat support hospital there in texas and in san antonio, and they were looking for an operating room nurse. basically they had a slot for being promoted, so i said, okay, that sounds great. but there's a caveat. the caveat was, we're being deployed. so i said, okay. so here i go again. so -- which was fine, which was fine. i thought, okay, at least i'll get a deployment out of this. and who knows where that will lead me. so i got into the 628th forward surgical team, and they were
deployed to afghanistan. and that's where everything started. >> who all was in the 628th when you joined up? >> the 628th primarily only has between 14 to 20 unit members, and it consists of basically emergency room, operating room, and icu recovery personnel, medical personnel. the doctors -- we have assigned a doctor, a trauma surgeon, or an orthopedic surgeon, but they only stay with us only 90 days during each deployment. so basically there was a rotation of surgeons. but the unit members all stay together. and our deployment was 12 months. and, yeah, we became very, very close. only two females, and the rest were males.
so, again, it didn't bother me so much because of the military school. so i was comfortable with that. i didn't have any problems with that at all, plus i was the oldest as well. the -- i think the average age for the unit members were between 21 and 25. by the time i left, i was 50. so, yeah, i was the old one. >> tell me how you got over to afghanistan and what that trip was like for you. >> well, before that, we had a lot of training, prior to that, had to. the first training was basically war training over at ft. mccoy. it's called rtc. and we were, let's say, embedded with combat engineers and we had to do tactical situations. it's the what-if situations. so we were there about six
weeks. and i learned a lot. luckily, with the civil affairs, with the operational and tactical side, i had a leg up a little bit more than some of my unit members. so i helped out there. and then after the six weeks, had a week off. then we went to florida and we went to ryder trauma center which is basically a trauma center, period, there in miami, florida. and this is where we got our first taste of real trauma. so my operating room guys never really saw trauma until we got there. and i said, this is what it looks like, plus more, out there, i believe. so we were there for two weeks, learned a lot, learned a lot.
and it was almost like combat. we literally lived in the hospital. when things came through, we were there. so the emergency room part where my unit members did their stuff, they did the same thing out in afghanistan. it was interesting. and for the operating room, it wasn't the day shift. it was the night shift. 11 p to 11 a, and we saw everything that came through the door. because as everyone knows, miami is a hot spot. and it's no longer a nice place. so we did everything from gunshot wounds to drownings, to fire, to homicides. you name it, we did it. so we were busy. and then at the very end, we had to take over ryder trauma as a unit while the staff stood back. so that's how we got our first
taste of, okay, this is what may happen out there. >> that sounds like a great hands-on training. >> it was fabulous. >> did you walk out with any knowledge that you picked up? >> we did so many things in there that when we finally got to our f.o.b., we saw the same things, plus more. and we actually had scenarios where the generator at the hospital or trauma center would go out. it happened out there. so it was like, man, this is truly -- we received great training. and the trainers were also vets from forward surgical teams. so at least they knew the talk and the walk. so good training. >> tell me about the trip over to afghanistan before you got to the f.o.b. >> oh, my goodness. we had to mobilize once again. so after ryder we only had two weeks off.
so we had to get all our equipment, make sure we had everything. and we went to ft. lewis for more training. and this time we had to set up our forward surgical tent. we had to make sure that we knew what we had. so it was just a progression to the peak. so we were there i believe another six weeks. again, more training. more physical training than anything else. so once we got done there, we only had 2 1/2 days off. so our families, they flew up there to ft. lewis. and then from there, it was time to go. so from ft. lewis, minnesota, minnesota to rammstein,
rammstein to turkestan, and then kyrgyzstan, where we were there for about a week to acclimate and then from kyrgyzstan to afghanistan. so there was a lot of hopping going on. so basically the trip took over 30 hours between stops. >> what was going through your mind the whole time? >> you know, it was just so busy that we didn't even think about home, or i didn't think about home. because i was just thinking, what am i going to see out there? do we have enough stuff? did i bring enough stuff? plus meeting a lot of folks and thinking, am i going to see these people? you know, a lot, a lot. busy, busy, busy, busy. it wasn't the hurry-up-and-wait at the moment. the hurry-up-and-wait was in flying over there. it was like, oh, my gosh, it was just long getting there. just long getting there.
>> and once you arrived in afghanistan, what were your first impressions? >> once we arrived in afghanistan, our first stop was at bagram, which is the big base there. again, we had to stay there a week. and again, we had to go through some more training, especially culture sensitivity and getting acclimated as well. because where we were going it was 6,800 feet. so we had to get acclimated to the weather, to the elevation. and just getting acclimated to wearing our uniform. even though we were wearing uniforms all the time, this was a different type of uniform. now we had to wear our iotvs in bagram. because even in bagram, they were being shelled. so that was our first experience of getting mortared. so that's a wake-up call. because it's like, okay, this is
a huge base. we're still not safe, and this is a huge base. so what are we going to look forward to when we get to the forward operational base, which is a little bit smaller. so it was a lot of chaos going on. >> and how soon after you landed did you start getting shelled? >> that same night. it was interesting. as i said, we were only two females out of the whole thing. at first, we were separated -- we were supposed to be in the female tent and the males were in a male tent. it got to the point, it was like, we need to stay together -- besides the communication, in case we had to to meetings, do the training, getting everything together. so maybe it was a no-no, but myself and this nco decided, you know what? we don't care, we're going to live with the guys. the guys didn't have a problem
with it because as an fst, sometimes we do have to live together. so that was our first experience as well. so we got into the male tent. it was just them. we cordoned it off. the guys were great. it was like, okay, now it starts. now it starts. so we were there for a week. then it was time to go to f.o.b. shank. yeah. that was an experience as well. >> how far was f.o.b. shank away from bagram? >> it was only 50 miles, but there's no convoys because of taliban and the terrain as well. it was just too dangerous. so basically, we had to go with a c-17. and that's the small cargos, so basically we sit in these little, tiny -- not even seats, it's basically just straps, and we were part of the cargo with our stuff.
so we had to wait for a c-17 to get us there. so, again, then it was a waiting game. and we had to go at night. we couldn't go during the day because of operations as well. plus, keeping it a little bit more covert, because evidently out there, when they heard there was new medical coming in, we were good targets because we're the heartbeat of the f.o.b. they figured if they can knock out the medical, they can knock out missions. and pretty much, they were right. so, yeah, we had to go oh dark 30 as you always hear. it's always o-dark-30. so that's how we left bagram. >> did you see anything memorable on your way over there, anything that stands out in your mind? >> my only thing is -- was when
we were on these planes, no windows. you don't know what's out there. and then once we start landing, they turn a red light on. so it's kind of spooky for me. now, we had -- two of the guys were -- i can't say ex-infantry men. they were 11 bravos. so they were used to it. and of course, they're looking at us like, it will be all right, it will be all right. i'm sure my eyes were like -- we still had our iotvs, our kevlar on, our weapons, the whole nine yards. so, yeah, it was interesting. it was interesting. >> describe f.o.b. shank to me. >> f.o.b. shank was an eight-mile -- a square mile forward operational base. and pretty much it wasn't a circle. it was mostly -- i don't know what you -- not even -- it was almost like a triangle.
it consisted of over 7,000 people. you wouldn't know it at the time. and when we first got there, the 10th mountain was there. so we were embedded with the 10th mountain. they were over there -- they were ready to rip out within a month for a new brigade to come in. so during that time it was called a rip/toa where a new brigade coming in and they were going out. the new brigade was the 3-1, and that was armor. so we basically had the armor with us for six months, seven months. so it was interesting at that time. we also had nato forces there. the czechs were there. we had afghanis living there as contract workers. basically they did the chow halls, just different odds and ends.
we had a lot of nepalese. i called them hindis or hindus, a lot of indian, from india. so it was a lot of cultures all mixed into one, let's say. and we literally -- not lived with them, but they were always around us, always around us. and, of course, the american forces. >> any memorable experiences when you first got to shank? >> when we finally landed at shank, it was dark, it was cold. it was around 1:30 in the morning. and we got picked up by special forces. they had the little bread trucks. again, blacked out. the f.o.b. was a blackout situation, no lights. so we get to -- we get in there, we fly in, we sit around for about an hour trying to figure out, okay, what's going on, who
is going to pick us up. once we get everything situated, two sfs come in. are you so and so? yeah. okay, follow us. okay. so we pull all our gear, get in the little bread trucks. again, no lights, so we're fumbling around. get in the bread trucks. they finally put the lights on a little bit so they could maneuver out of the packs, and the only thing i see is the wire. it's dark, and there's so much dust and dirt out there, it's almost like moon dust, it was like snow. and the only thing that went through my mind was, what the hell have i done? so that was my beginning of my experience at fob shank, was what the hell have i done? because i didn't know where we were going.
it felt like a total alien environment. and to me i thought we drove and drove and drove, and it was only ten minutes. it was only ten minutes to where we were supposed to go. stopped, pulled all our stuff out, met the other fst and they basically said it's late. we'll show you where the bathrooms are. here is your tent, that's it. and that's how it started. so, yeah, it was unbelievable. >> what was the day in the life like in your first month? >> basically learning the terrain around us. we basically lived within -- we never really left the area. so let's say less than 50 yards. so we needed to learn where everything was, where the chow
hall was, where the latrines and showers were, where the fst was, where charlie med was, where the lz was. and to learn it quickly, especially at night, because we only had flashlights, we had to learn the cultures as well around us. out there, the guys didn't have any problems. it was the females that had a few obstacles and barriers, especially with the afghanis and the muslims. because again, here we are females wearing our uniforms, wearing a weapon and looking at them. because we were told, don't look at them. i'm sorry. i can't do that. i'm a very visual person. i would have to look at them and talk to them. so that kind of made a few ruffles of the feathers. but -- >> any specific experiences you can share?
>> well, unfortunately we had to take care of epws or prisoners of war and locals. and you have to touch them, especially in the operating room. you have to position them. we have to do things before they're put down to sleep for the surgeries, and the males did not like this. it just got to the point, it was like, too bad. we have to take care of you. i would have to tell the interpreter, because we had interpreters with us. please tell them they need to be taken care of. i'm the only one who can do this at this time. they didn't like it. they didn't like it at all. what can we do? but the ones that didn't like it were the ones that just didn't like us, period. some of the locals, they were okay. the nomads, they would come in as well. a little different, especially if we had to take care of their children. that was different. >> how so?
>> they weren't into the war. they're out there to live and survive. they're out there herding their goats. there are some bad ones out there, too, but most of the time they were good people. as i said, the kids would pick up -- they're called dum-dums from the russians, and they look like toys and they would start banging them. actually they were small little ieds and bombs. once they banged them, pow. they would get horribly hurt, and they would bring them in, and we would try to do everything we could. so with -- the mother never came in until the very end. it was always the so-called father. again, we didn't know if they were fathers, uncles -- every time we would ask them a question, their answers were different on who are you. so that was another thing we had to play with.
so it was just an ever-ending who are you, what are you? because we had some bad people come through as well. one was caught. some others weren't. >> can you tell me that story? >> we had one day a so-called uncle come in. and unfortunately the child was shot in the head. it was a male child, which was unusual, first of all. so that was one of our red flags, especially in the head. and the so-called father/uncle, we put him outside. he was not allowed to be inside the area where we first put our patients in. and he just kept looking around, and they're not very emotional people anyway, but this guy was stone -- just absolute, just
looking and looking and looking and surveying and surveying. so we finally got the mps to check him out. and there's a thing that basically we do fingerprints, and that's how we i.d. these folks out there. then some of the sfs -- because we were embedded as well with sfs. they came out, and it was at night, and they interrogated him a little bit more. when i say interrogated -- i should say interviewed him a little bit more. it just didn't jive, just how this child got hurt, how he came in and just the way he was doing things. and then he started saying, you know, it was an american bullet that did this, and he wanted money. and then more red flags came up. after we did the -- it's called
the hide -- he came up dirty. it wasn't his child. come to find out, he had bought the child. so another wake-up call. so after that, when we saw children coming in hurt, it was, like, suspicious. so everyone got the hide and all that. but he was dirty. so they got him, they got him. but still, you just never knew who came through those doors. yeah. >> could you tell me what the hide is? >> pretty much the hide is where, again, they do the fingerprints, they do the iris, and it's a database. these are suspected taliban from previous records where they've somehow got let go. because a lot of them got let go, and that's how we could get them. so at least we had a little bit of that type of technology out there.
yeah. >> there was an explosion on base. could you tell me that story? >> f.o.b. shank was basically called rocket city. we always had a record on how many a day we had, and basically we had over 278 by the time we left. sometimes when you get hit once or sometimes we'd get hit multiple times, six, ten times a day. most of the time it was during the day or early mornings. once in a while at night, which was unusual because usually what we heard was at night we would get hit. for some reason we didn't get hit as much at night. they were either mortars, snipes, or some ieds out behind the wire. but the mortars, oh, my goodness, when they hit, they hit.
there was no random -- they got better as the year progressed as well. they were targeting. and they were targeting us and the packs where the airplane and the helicopters, the landing zones out there. and they were getting better. they got really close, very close. so they got -- they finally got the packs one day. so that was pretty busy. and then they got pretty close to our lz where the medevacs landed. so we had to be careful. we had to be careful and not stand out all the time. because where we were at, there was a hill, and you could literally see them sitting on that hill watching us because you could see glints of either binoculars or whatever. and we couldn't do anything about it, obviously, because they weren't shooting at us.
and that's the rules of engagement. so basically the rules of engagement stated, if we're not being shot at, we don't shoot them back. and if we are being shot at, we can't shoot back until we get permission. so we always had that going on as well. and there were kalats or homes behind us, behind that wire. what they would do, they would shoot the rockets and go between the kalats and there's women and children there. guess what? we can't fire back. so we had that going on as well. yeah, yeah. so we never knew. >> and you came pretty close to being hit and got knocked out at one point. could you tell me that story? >> right. it was august 7th, very vivid. we had just gotten done that morning around 9:00 -- because the night before we were busy,
and we did -- it's called an aar, after action report. and we do this every morning just to make sure and talk about what happened that night or that day, to see whether or not we could improve what happened. because we were always trying to improve. hold on a second. we do our action reports to get better, to serve our soldiers better, what can we do better? so that's what aars are all about. so after we finished our aar, i went back to my sleep tent just to get a few things. and it was a gorgeous day. actually one of the best days we had in a long time, but it was quiet, which was unusual. that gave us a clue right there and then. it wasn't if we were going to
get hit, it was when we were going to get hit. because you could feel it. you could feel it starting. and you can't really describe it. it's just that innate thing, the knowing, something is going to happen. don't know when, but it's going to happen. well, it was quiet. i was starting to walk back to the fst. as i'm walking back, i feel a thump -- it was like, thump! it was like slow motion. i'm sure you've heard that before. it was like a slow-motion thing. and as i'm walking, i take one more step and i just feel myself just kind of lifted up, and it was like a rag doll, but it felt like two hands just squeezing. as it's squeezing, i'm still being propelled, and i hit --
it's called the alaska wall. it's a thick cement wall, and it's about maybe two feet thick and at least -- i think it was 20 feet high. and what these walls do is, in case we do get mortared or whatever, it will hit that first. it's like a buffer. it's in front of the fst. so i'm walking, get squeezed. i'm being propelled. the next thing, i see the alaska wall. i can't do anything about it. now, i don't have any iotv on or anything. it's just my uniform and my cap and my cup, my little cup of coffee. i hit the wall and i hit it right through here, bam. next thing i know, someone is on top of me, and they keep saying, are you okay?
the only thing i remember is i can't breathe. i think it was because he was laying on top of me. and that was the end of it. that's all i remember. next thing i know i'm finally -- i guess i'm being woken up or i'm starting to wake up. i'm on a litter, it's called, or the stretcher. protocol is two straps over the arms and over the legs. they gave me three straps. and the only reason why they gave me three straps is because i was trying to get up, because i didn't know what happened, number one. and i was hearing so much chaos around me because of the screaming, of the yelling, just everything. it's not a quiet fob anyway because of all the generators. so there's always constant noise, but this is now amplified. and i'm trying to get up, but i can't move my legs. i can hardly move my arms. i'm just doing this, and i keep
getting this, lay down, lay down, stop, stop moving, lay down. so i finally quit and i'm seeing faces looking down at me. it's like, what happened? again, i can hardly hear because the explosion was so big. i'm surprised -- i've lost some hearing on my right side. it was like, what? everyone is, like i said, screaming. i was like, okay. and they told me that a vehicle-borne ied exploded outside of the wire. where we were at, it was only a 30-second walk from the wire and it was a big water truck that a month prior had been stolen. unfortunately the drivers, afghanis, were kidnapped, they were beheaded because they were helping the americans.
they had basically taken all the water out and they had put in 3,000 pounds of military grade explosives. now, this is all after i had come back and found out about it. but that's what happened. instead of exploding at 10:00 that morning, they exploded it at 9:37. they got antsy and there were two people in the truck. and the only reason they know of this is we had this thing in the sky called eye in the sky and everything was being videoed. they saw everything happen. couldn't stop it, unfortunately, because -- well, what happened is the back, they had afghani soldiers back there. they never stopped that water truck. they let it roll behind, which they shouldn't have done. and that's how it exploded. they got edgy. it basically cleared 75 feet of the wire open.
and luckily, the sfs were home, the rangers were home. they had just gone to bed. and when it hit, they came out. they were still in their underwear. they had -- they were ready for war. they were ready to fight. the 173rd then was embedded with us as well. those kids came out fully geared, and they all ran where we were at, because we didn't know whether or not there were more taliban behind them. so all this is going on, helicopters, apaches, kiowas. oh, my god, waiting for the medevacs. and during all this time, we were being mortared as well. so they would not leave too many of us out there, but when they got mortared, they all had to run into the bunkers.
so we were just kind of laying there going, okay, what's next? luckily, it never hit our area. it killed more of their people. none of our unit members were hurt. no americans were hurt. it was their people. again, what's the sense in that? as i said, it was just absolute chaos. the next thing i knew -- one of the trauma surgeons came running around, assessing everybody. he basically said, you're next, we don't know whether or not your back is broken because the way i was laying -- i couldn't move my legs. my left leg basically got dislocated by hitting the wall. shoulders were dislocated. even this was dislocated, but that's why i could not move or anything like that. so anyway, the medivacs are
coming in, they put me in the medevac, and i always wanted a helicopter ride, but that was not the helicopter ride i wanted. so there i was on the bird, kind of looking over, and as we were lifting up i could see what had happened and it looked like a huge hurricane went through. we lost everything. we totally lost the whole camp, we lost the fst. so basically as i'm lifted off, the other medevacs come in, and they said it was a mass casualty of over 65. 65, yeah. landed in bagram. that is where i was taken care of pretty much. >> anyone on the helicopter ride? >> no, it was so chaotic. in fact, i had an afghani merchant, because they had little shops behind us, and of
course all of the shops were blown up, they lost everything. unfortunately this young guy got hit pretty dad. and i just laid there and i told the evac guys, i said, don't worry about me, worry about him. because i knew when they assessed me i knew i wasn't bleeding outwardly. and i was talking to them, so i thought, i'm fine, you know? again, the hardhead medical nurse, you know? so i'm fine, i'll be all right, denial big time. so they took care of him and then finally landed at bagram and that was a zoo as well. because at the time, f.o.b. sharona got hit as well. it was a coordinated effort by the taliban.
we got hit first and then they got hit. same thing. >> how long did it take for you to get care when you got to bagram? >> oh, my gosh. it was fast. got off of the bird, got into the emergency room area. they assessed me right away. there is a thing called trauma naked. as soon as you get in there, they cut everything off. i was fully awake at that time and i had a c-collar on that i didn't even know i had on, and i looked at the nurses and i said, do not cut my uniform off, and they said, we need to, and i said, don't cut my uniform off, and they said you're a nurse, aren't you? and i went, yes, i am. i went, don't do it. they did cut off my t-shirt and stuff, but a lot of the medical
colonels came around, and they knew who i was because they have visited the f.o.b. i got a ct scan right away to make sure there was no internal bleeding. no internal bleeding in the head, anything like that. then i was put into the ward, but i had to lay there for at least six hours, but that's when the headache came, the bloody nose came. then all of a sudden the pain, because the adrenaline was finally gone and everything hit, and it was like, oh, my god. you know? oh, my god. one of our trauma surgeons also got hurt, he had shrapnel in his shoulder, he was in the sleep tent and he was banged up pretty bad. >> what was his name? >> his name was colonel ellison. he was full-time. he was from ft. bragg.
he came up as a private all the way up to colonel. he was hardcore. and he didn't know i was hurt, either, until i heard him saying some expletives, some adjectives that were not very nice to some of the people because they kept touching that area. and i said, we all went by call names, and his call name was big e, or big ellison. and my call name was mama bear. and i said are you there? and he said, yeah, mama bear, is that you? and i said, yeah. so anyway, now we know we're there together. the sergeant majors came through, the colonels come through. and come to find out the reports given to everybody for us were colonel ellison had a below the knee amputation of the leg,
which he did not, thank god, and that i had a fractured skull, which i did not. because of all the chaos, a lot of misinformation. so when the colonels came down, it's like, oh, you're fine. yeah, i'm great. just perfect. so i there was for about a week. went through the tbi protocol. the headaches were just horrendous to the point where i could not go outside because the light hurt so bad. colonel ellison was also in the tbi area, doing his thing, and he was ready to go home. he basically said, i'm not going home. i have to get back to the f.o.b. and they also wanted me to go home. and i had gotten friendly with the other nurses, so they were doing all of the paperwork, and basically they came up to me and
they said, well, we're getting you ready to go to lanchduel and i said, what for? you got hurt. they said they don't want you out here because you've been hurt. i said, i'm fine. and they said, do you have ringing in your ears, and i said it's gone, it was a lie. no, i can hear you. and they said, how are your headaches? and i said they're mild now. don't waste your time. i have to get back to the f.o.b. so they talked to the doc and he said all right, well, okay. all right, so i'm going back to f.o.b. colonel ellison finds out and he says if major justice is going back, i'm going back. so basically they told him if you can put your iotv on by
yourself within two weeks you can go back to the f.o.b. fine. i had to start putting my iotv back. hurt, oh, my god. it hurt so bad. but it was like, yeah, see, i got it. i got my iotv on, i can do it, i can hear you, i'm great, i'm good to go. we were motivators for each other. it was like, okay, i finally got it. in two weeks he got his on. so luckily he came back to the f.o.b. so, yeah, during that time while i was gone the unit members, they were banged up, too, but not hurt as bad. they got the fst up and running,
a makeshift, within four hours. because of the chaos, we could not be black. the people around us, pretty much, picked up as much supplies and medical stuff that had blown out and put them all in bags and then when i finally got back in that week, the fst was up and running again. so i was only there for about 30 more days and of course during that 30 days we got hammered again. this time we didn't have a sleep tent, we had this big alaskan thing. it was very austere out there. we lost the showers, the latrines, it was crappy out there. literally crappy out there. >> and your injuries didn't make it easier. >> no. i tried to focus as much as i could. but the focus was hard.
reading was hard, i had to wear sunglasses all of the time because of the lights and the headaches were horrendous. and just picking up, pulling, it was rough. the guys knew about it. but they were so busy themselves, it was like, i'm not doing the burden on them as well. i couldn't do it. it was rough. >> but it was nice to be back with the unit, though. >> it was. a lot of the guys didn't think i was coming back until i called the packs and said come pick me up, please. i was the only o.r. nurse there. and it was pretty stretchy there. >> tell me about your last couple days in afghanistan. >> the last couple of days was pretty much just trying to keep it together. trying to show the new fst unit members along with my unit
members the transition on, you know, what to expect. what is going to happen. hints. you know, we try to guide as much as we could. once you're out there, you're by yourself. the biggest thing is, we are taboo. the soldiers won't talk to us until they need us and that's okay. that's fine. at first i thought it was weird. they would look at us and go like this because we had patches with the red cross so they knew who we were. because it said sft on it. it was pretty interesting. just trying to keep it together, plus the 173rd was still new there. we had to, you know, deal with a we have been here before type
of deal. it was like, okay. so the last couple weeks were sbrens. and the last weeks are the most dangerous weeks for people leaving. because the guards start going down. people get complacent. it was creeping up until we got mortared and then it's like, okay -- then we had to let go of the fst. which was hard, i mean, all of that training and then 11 or 12 months out there and then give up our baby to someone who is new. so it was rough, but it was like, we have got to give it to them now. we have got to let go. so one night they invited us over to their area and the new fst were up to their eyeballs
and basically myself, i was the oic, and the commander basically said, let it go. we're going to go over to the other side. let it go. ooh, that was rough. and that was it. and then at 6:00 on september 11th, believe it or not, in the morning, my first sergeant got two small, we call them baby hueys. instead of going to the packs, being cattle drived and everything. these two baby hueys came out of nowhere. got our stuff from the lz and we flew to bagram and then we were there at bagram for about a week to decompress, just kind of get our stuff together a little bit,
and then flew out to kurzikstan for another week, again, to decompress. then from there to italy, to rammstein, to north carolina, and finally to ft. hood. then we were there another week to, you know, give our stuff back. and do our paperwork, redeploy back. and then drove home back here to georgia. >> and how have you been doing since you got back? >> i took three months off because of the medicals. i had to do all of that medical stuff and then i started a new job at atlanta medical center here in atlanta. level one trauma center. couldn't get away from that.
and then i worked there for almost a year and then decided i can't do o.r. any more. i'm done. i'm done. yeah. >> and you're still in the service? >> i'm still in the reserves. i want to get my 20 year. i only have seven years left. i want to get my 20 year. i have gone this far, i'm going to finish it out. so from the 628th in san antonio, i decided i can't fly back and forth. so i needed to find a new home and besides that, i'm no longer deployable. so i found a non-deployable untit, the 7303rd at ft. gordon in augusta, georgia. i do on o.c. observe and control.
i evaluate units and i make sure they're worthy enough and trained up enough to go out there. i know there will be other conflicts. it's not just going to be afghanistan, even though as of yesterday we're no longer at war with afghanistan. so that's what i do now. >> did you learn anything valuable that you could pass on from your time in the military? >> just keep your mind open. be adaptable to change. i have become a chameleon. pretty much. nothing bothers me anymore. materialism is out the window. you change. you've become very humbled. your priorities in life change, too. that saying, it is what it is? it is what it is. yeah.
it's changed my life quite a bit. i used to be very anal retentive, very "a" personality. now it's, whatever. it's, i mean i'm still a little "a," but not to the extent that i was. people say you changed quite a bit. the fun loving side is gone. it's more realistic. i'm more aware of what goes on around me. and that's my stomach is growling. but anyway, yeah, it's just, be adaptable. be adaptable. know your soldiers. that is one of the biggest things. even though i was an officer, i needed to know my soldiers more than just, yeah, they're soldiers. you know, they're enlisted. there is always that little barrier there. but out there, nah. to me. but again, i'm in a different
situation. we're medical, we're not any other type of unit. we have to work oz as a team, you know. even though military is working as a team, this is tighter. and being in the reserves, too, this is our job. or it was my job, so again it was a little different. >> what advice do you have for any women looking to join the military? >> there is more doors open now, which is great. there is always going to be a barrier. there is always a good old boys club anywhere you go. even in the civilian world. but it gives you a better grasp of how to circumvent a lot of that stuff. because there is a little bit more patrolling, let's say. but there's such great opportunities for women.
the combat thing, i was out there, i'll say it, let the guys do it. you can be a truck driver, you can do this and that. i'm old, too. maybe if i was a 20-year-old. but now, in hindsight, though. for women, there's so many opportunities, education, special education, you can do anything you want. you really can. >> was there anything else you want to add? any other stories you want to tell? >> i think i said enough. >> it's been a pleasure and an honor to meet you. and hear your stories. thank you for your time. and thank you very much for your service. >> thank you so much. get c-span on the go, with
our new mobile video app. it's free. download c-span now today. next on american history tv, mercury seven astronaut alan shepard, the first american in space, talks about the earliest days of the space program and his nasa career. as apollo 14 commander, he was the fifth man to walk on the moon. he was interviewed on february 20th, 1998, five months before his death from leukemia. this interview is part of the nasa johnson space center's oral history collection. >> alan louis shepard, pebble beach, california. you can't see the magnificent view, because we've blacked it out. alan, thank you for letting us be here with you and doing this oral history. >> it's a pleasure, sir. it's a pleasure.