News: Combat medic shares story about ‘just doing his job’
Story by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
“We were used to getting hit,” said Staff Sgt. Warren Williamson Jr., a medic with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron. “But that day…that day was different.”
Of the 300-plus combat missions he was a part of while deployed last year, Williamson recalls a day he will never forget, a day he could have lost everything, but gained so much more.
For his second 365-plus day deployment to Afghanistan, he was sent to a forward operating base located in the Laghman Province of Afghanistan to be the sole medic for a group of soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company.
“I was the primary doctor, the sole provider there,” said the Chesapeake, Va., native. “Dismounted elements wouldn’t leave the truck without the doc, without me. I escorted all dismounted missions away from the convoy.”
Williamson said the day began like any other.
“That morning we headed out on a mounted combat patrol to a green district, meaning there wasn’t a whole lot of Taliban activity,” he explained.
“The mission was for our team to provide security for a few civil engineer officers to check out a courthouse in a local district that had been rocketed by the Taliban,” Williamson continued. “At the same time, I was to meet with the district hospital medical provider there and discuss some medical issues.”
The courthouse mission lasted roughly two hours. They parked the convoy inside the district and dismounted. The engineers walked the perimeter of the district, and measured it, ending the fairly smooth mission around 10 a.m.
“We were getting ready to mount back up and continue on for my mission to meet the doctor,” he said. “But first we had to maneuver our trucks so that they weren’t blocking traffic. So although some soldiers were in the trucks, most of us were still on foot, guiding the trucks and pulling security.”
“As we were prepping to move the trucks, we were caught off guard,” he continued. “Before we knew what was happening, an Afghan had gotten on his motorcycle, road right through our formation, and detonated a vehicle-borne IED, instantly killing himself, injuring my guys and killing a bunch of his.”
More than 10 people were killed that day.
“We were knocked unconscious. I’m not sure how many of us were on the ground, to be honest, but when I looked up, it was just…chaos. I can’t describe it any other way.”
He and his team were no strangers to getting attacked. But, Williamson said he knew this time was different. It was the worst they’ve experienced in the six months they had already been deployed.
“When I came to, the dust hadn’t even settled yet and all I could hear were screams and a group of my guys dragging one of the soldiers closer to me screaming ‘doc, doc!’,” explained the medic that spent two years training with Air Force pararescuemen. “As they got closer I got to my feet and helped get that soldier to the safest place I could to treat his wounds, because at that point we had started taking small arms fire as well.”
Behind a small dirt wall, shielded from incoming fire, Williamson did everything he could to keep his soldiers alive.
“I used gauze and bandages, gave him drugs and fluid, and right after I applied a tourniquet to his arm, that’s when,” he paused, this time with a deep breath. “I heard them calling for me again.”
“So I put on the tourniquet and ran over to my first sergeant, who I thought was dead,” he remembered. “I didn’t see him breathing, I didn’t see him yelling or screaming. I just saw huge holes in him. He was laid out.”
Williamson knew he had to take action, and quick. But as they started taking fire once again, Williamson did the only the only thing he could and hurled his body over his first sergeant, knowing he had to protect him.
“I didn’t know where the attack was coming from and it was just my first reaction,” Williamson humbly explained. “It’s my job to keep those guys healthy.”
“But we found a way to move my first sergeant to a safe place and I got to work, trying to save this man’s life,” he continued. “I used everything I had --QuikClot, tourniquets, bandages, drugs, and every last drop of the fluids I had. All I could think was ‘stop the bleeding, save this person’s life’.”
“Gosh, it’s been just over a year ago, now, and I’ve only ever told that story once,” he said.
The incident lasted about 10 minutes. Williamson said when he looks back on this event it feels like he’s watching an “old slow-motion movie reel,” but at the time it, it seemed like mere seconds.
Thanks to quick thinking, dedication and selflessness, not only did every soldier survive that day, they survived every mission, and returned home to their families.
His actions that day has earned him the Army Accommodation Medal with Valor and as a result, the Non-Commissioned NCO Association Vanguard Award, an award that recognizes NCOs who have performed a heroic act, on or off duty, saving lives or preventing further injury.
“It’s kind of weird that somebody submitted me for an award that involves saving a life when that’s really what my job is to do,” the 10-year veteran. “They did their job, keeping me safe, so I just kind of returned the favor, I think.”
Williamson recently travelled to Las Vegas to receive the award at the Non-Commissioned Officer Association Vanguard Tribute Banquet during the NCOA 2012 Annual Convention.
He and four other winners of the Vanguard Award, one from each branch of Service, were recognized by Lee Greenwood, a country music singer, at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, July 12.
But the highlight of the night for Williamson was reuniting with an old friend, the first sergeant he helped save.
“I was honored to be at the Vanguard ceremony when Staff Sgt. Williamson received the award,” said Army Master Sgt. Chris Demars, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry, and first sergeant of Williamson’s deployed team. “Monday before the award ceremony was the first time I was able to see Staff Sgt. Williamson since the day he saved my life on the battlefield.”
“From an outsider perspective, seeing two grown men hugging with tears in their eyes might have seemed unorthodox,” Williamson said. “But for us, in that moment, it was a perfectly normal response.”
Seeing him now healthy, Williamson said, conjured up emotions he didn't think he’d ever felt before. He said he feels lucky to have spent four days with Demars and his family.
“Master Sgt. Demars was and always will be a mentor, and more than anything, a friend for life,” Williamson said.