News: Texas native survives head shot, continues mission
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
NAWA DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan — The Marines with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, are all too familiar with the reality of war, but they can honestly say they have been fortunate in not taking any casualties during their deployment in Afghanistan. One Texas native with the platoon can attest to that good fortune first-hand.
Lance Corporal Christopher D. Hatley Jr., an Abilene, Texas, native and a rifleman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, was participating in one of his battalion’s operations recently when he was shot in the head.
The company, also known as “Bad Company,” was on a mission to clear and secure approximately 20 compounds in southern Trek Nawa and to disrupt any enemy operations within their area. Hatley, a point man with his platoon, was responsible for scanning and clearing a safe path for his fellow Marines to follow while they were carrying out the mission called Operation Hammer Fist. Hatley used his metal detector to ensure there were no improvised explosive devices between his brothers-in-arms and their objectives.
According to 1st Lt. Brendan Noble, a Chicago native and Hatley’s platoon commander, his Marines staged against a wall, waiting to clear another compound, when it happened.
“(Some Marines and I) were going to check on a compound about 100 meters away,” said Hatley. “I was standing there and as soon I was about to start walking, I heard machine gun fire take off.”
“POP, POP, POP!” Two rounds from a machine gun impacted the wall directly behind Hatley’s head, and the last shot struck his helmet just above the ear.
“I turned my head right and saw the rounds hit; then it felt like I got hit with a big rock. I didn’t think I got shot; I just thought a big rock hit my head because there was a big wall next to me,” explained Hatley, a 2010 graduate of Pine Crest High School.
“When it happened I took a knee and a friend asked me, ‘Are you alright?’ and I got a big headache. (My buddy) said, ‘I think you got shot.’ Right where my hand was, there was a small hole. I started feeling my helmet and there was round in there.”
Noble recalled when his Marine was struck with the bullet.
“I was a couple of guys back from him and we started taking fire from a tree line. When I first heard he got hit in the head, we had (the Navy corpsman) take a look at him. We did a full check to make sure he was ok,” said Noble, a 2009 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “Just from looking at the Kevlar (helmet), it didn’t look like he got hit with a round; it appeared that it had been a ricochet that had just cut the fabric on his (helmet).”
The round was lodged between the digital camouflage fabric cover and the hardened, life-saving material of Hatley’s helmet. The 7.62 mm bullet could possibly have penetrated his helmet if he had not turned his head. The round struck his helmet at just the right angle to give him a massive headache, but not go all the way through. Hatley pushed on to finish out the operation, despite his throbbing head.
“I asked him if he was ok; he said he was fine and was able to push on. He appeared to be ok and the corpsman (cleared him), and he pushed on,” said Noble. “I think it speaks a lot about the Marines. Despite the contact they have taken — they know they are going to take contact -- and they continue to push out here everyday into dangerous areas, trying to take the fight to the insurgents. Even when rounds hit right next to you, or in the case with Hatley who took one in the (helmet), they still want to push on to find the enemy in order to keep the pressure on (them).”
Hatley was allowed to keep the bullet which almost claimed his life and the Kevlar helmet that saved it. “I think someone was looking out for me,” said Hatley with a grin.
Editor’s note: Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 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 Forces 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.