COMBAT OUTPOST AZADI, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
COMBAT OUTPOST AZADI, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Combat boots kick clouds of powdered dust threatening to stifle the Marines and sailors as they patrol down the dusty, Afghan roads. Seventy pounds of personal protective equipment, water, and ammunition weigh the men down, and the unrelenting sun slowly siphons their strength. Sweat pours, lips smack, and blistering, tasteless water is barely enough to quell their unyielding thirst.
Patrolling in the 130-degree heat for hours on end can tax the body and push Marines to their limits. Sterling Heights, Mich., native Pfc. Robert A. Weimer is a rifleman with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and learned the strength of the ruthless Afghan sun the hard way.
Weimer patrolled three miles with his squad to conduct a vehicle checkpoint in late June. They arrived around 11 a.m. and searched oncoming vehicles for nearly six hours. The patrol leader and Weimer’s team leader pushed the service members to drink water constantly throughout the day to prevent heat injuries. The heat is a very real danger in this southwest portion of Afghanistan, and Marines at all levels are focused on safety precautions to alleviate heat-related injuries.
The unit lost communication with its patrol base after spending the majority of the day in the sun checking vehicles, and the patrol leader decided to take the squad back to the base in order to re-establish communication.
Weimer noticed the Marine in front of him begin to sway back and forth as if dozing off while walking during the hour-and-a-half-long return patrol. The squad moved into the shade to rest and drink more water and, as the Marine became nauseous, the unit’s corpsman checked the Marines to make sure they were all well.
Weimer became unresponsive to the corpsmen’s questions, his temperature began to rise, and he nearly lost consciousness. The corpsman stripped him of his flak jacket and Kevlar helmet and began pouring water on him in an effort to cool him off. Still his temperature rose. His team leader then carried him to a nearby canal and dipped him in the water, but it was to no avail. The Marines were able to get an Afghan National Army truck to stop and take Weimer back to the patrol base, where his temperature was recorded at 107 degrees.
Weimer flew to a higher echelon of care at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, for treatment. Medical professionals there gave him several IVs and administered blood tests to check any swelling to his organs. The 19-year-old Weimer said his liver had twice the enzyme count it should have and his gallbladder was inflamed to twice its normal size. Weimer remained at the Wounded Warrior unit aboard Camp Dwyer for 10 days for observation before returning to the patrol base where his infantry unit is located.
“(My unit) already had a report saying I couldn’t leave the wire for a little while – I needed to let my body acclimate,” said the 2010 Stevenson High School graduate. “The day after I returned, I was filling sand bags, and when I sat down to cool off after a few hours, it all came back; my whole body started to tense up. It was the worst pain of my life. One of the team leaders and my platoon commander noticed me sitting there clenched up – my fists balled up, grinding my teeth – I didn’t realize what was happening at the time.”
The corpsmen recorded his initial temperature at 102 before it rose to 104.3 less than 48 hours after being released for limited duty with his unit. He then returned to Azadi, where he remains on a permanent patient status, unable to leave the outpost. Weimer was crushed when leaders told him he would have to remain at the outpost for the duration of his unit’s deployment – he trained for six months to become a Marine rifleman and now is unable to perform his primary job.
“The heat case hurt my morale,” said Weimer. “I enjoyed doing my job. My team lost a guy, and I can’t go back and be with them.”
Instead of allowing this to consume him, Weimer took the initiative and, in true Marine Corps fashion, decided to better himself. He began spending time with the “Kilo” Company corpsmen, and they trained him on basic medical techniques.
“He’s been trained on anything our junior corpsman has been trained on,” said Champagne, Ill., native Petty Officer 3rd Class Curtis Edenfield, a corpsman with the company. “He understands the basic principles of triaging patients. He knows how to put IVs in – everything a (combat lifesaver) Marine is trained on, only in more detail. He’s picking things up quickly. He has that Marine mentality where he doesn’t ask many questions, he just does what he’s told – he’s disciplined.”
Weimer’s new training was tested recently when a patrol of Afghan Army soldiers patrolling in the area fell victim to a direct fire charge, a type of modified improvised explosive device. The injured soldiers arrived at the outpost while Weimer was helping teach a medical class to a squad of ANA soldiers. At first he said he thought it was an impromptu training exercise, but once he reached the first aid station, instinct kicked in.
“Weimer was grabbing supplies; we didn’t have to ask, he was already doing it,” said Edenfield. “He took the initiative, took vitals, and started IV lines with very little direction. He acted just like a corpsman should. It was awesome.”
Weimer said although he is still frustrated that that he can’t be with his former Marines, he is learning a lot and developing skills he will be able to use in the future.
“As a (rifleman) he’s not meant to do the things we do,” said Athens, Tenn., native Petty Officer 3rd Class William Ferguson, a corpsman with Kilo Company. “He’s supposed to be (combat lifesaver qualified) at the most. He’s adapted to the change and done very well; he’s a part of our trauma team.”
Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
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This work, Michigan native discovers opportunity through hardship, by Sgt Jeff Drew, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.