Todd Nelson, HT Director, USAA, 04/19/2014
Listen on Demand: April 19, 2014
It was just another day in Kabul, Afghanistan. My team and I had been overseeing the logistics system for the Afghanistan National Army for 10 months and we were scheduled to begin redeploying in just a few weeks. It was August, so the weather was fair, if not on the warm side. We had just visited our largest logistics depot and we were headed back to our base camp, Camp Eggars, for the evening.
That particular day our senior NCO was unable to join us, but we did have our senior warrant officer, and a fellow Sergeant First Class and Romanian Major in our two-truck convoy. We always travelled in at least two vehicles at all times. My fellow Sergeant First Class partner and I were travelling in a silver Toyota Land Cruiser. My partner, as fate would have it, chose to be driver that day and I would ride shotgun, a decision that would change my life forever. We were being followed, as was the standard, by my warrant officer and the Romanian Major travelling in a small Ford ranger pickup behind.
We were always prepared for the worst. We wore all our protective gear, from helmets, eye protection, fire-retardant gloves, body armor and more. We always travelled with constant communication with our trail vehicle and our higher headquarters with secure radios. We each kept our M4 Carbine and M9 pistols with magazines in, a round locked and loaded, and a full combat load of ammunition. We travelled at a high rate of speed to prevent anyone attempting to attack us. We kept a vigil lookout at everything from building tops down to suspicious vehicles with even so much as a weighted rear end. None of this could prevent what happened that afternoon.
As we travelled down Jalalabad Road at a high rate of speed, we were suddenly forced to slow down behind a vehicle and a large truck as they pulled into the road. As we began to accelerate past the small vehicle, all that my driver recalls is looking past me and catching the other driver’s expression of wide eyed terror. The next, and only, thing he recalls is something black flying across his field of vision — most likely my eye protection being blown off my face. The next account of the situation comes from our trail vehicle. As they recall, our vehicle in front of them suddenly became engulfed in a black cloud.
It happened so suddenly, they drove straight through the cloud only to find our vehicle no longer ahead of them. As they swung around they caught sight of my vehicle in the opposite lane, facing backwards. They hustled back to my truck and the Romanian rushed to help as chief notified headquarters. The driver, sustaining the least of the injuries, had stumbled in a daze out of the vehicle but I remained in the truck. Since my side of the truck was directly next to the explosion, the door was jammed shut, and I laid there in the flames and smoke, unconscious. My Romanian friend wrenched open the door, and reached through the flames to unbuckle my seatbelt and pull me out of the fire.
The next account is of the sheer confusion. There was little left of the other vehicle leaving the crew to wonder where the explosion had come from. As I laid there, unconscious, my warrant officer secured a perimeter around the scene. The weapons that were left in the vehicle continued to burn, and the rounds inside the vehicle started to detonate, or, “cook-off”, further adding to the utter confusion. Once they realized where the sounds were coming from, they took refuge behind a building and looked at me. Although there was little hope, my warrant officer ordered that the driver and I be loaded into the back of their pickup truck and taken to the nearest military base, Camp Phoenix. There, they provided life support, started me on a ventilator and began to evacuate me to Landstuhl, Germany.
Over the course of the next three years I underwent over 20 life-saving surgeries and 20 reconstructive surgeries to rebuild disfigured facial features. During this time I faced many obstacles. I was forced to tackle my fears including losing my sight, never being able to walk or run, play sports, drive a car and more. In spite of it all, I held on to my dreams. I remained active in the daily activities of my unit, completed three years of higher education, pursued my love of golf, cherished my family and friends, and began my public speaking career.
For an intimate look at the daily trials I came across, visit Sarah’s journal.
Today, with God’s grace and mercy I have been selected from among 700 others to be employed by USAA, a Fortune 200 company and one of the country’s most military friendly employers (G.I. Jobs) to assist other wounded warriors find employment. Because of the experiences I faced in 2007, today I appreciate every day I am given and cherish every moment of life like never before. I am excited for the challenges and opportunities that await me!