Virginia native dies three times, returns to Marjah
by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes 2nd MarDiv
MARJAH DISTRICT, Helmand prov ince, Afghanistan — Some Marines involved in the battle for Marjah in 2010 say they stared death in the face. One Manassas, Va., native involved in the intense fighting not only stared death in the face, but shook its hand as well.
Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Earle, an assaultman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, was critically wounded while conducting counterinsurgency operations in 2010, but lived to tell the story. Now he is back in Marjah, setting the example for his Marines.
Earle’s squad was conducting a patrol to assess how local residents felt about the insurgency and the coalition troops tasked with liberating the city of Marjah.
Pictured: Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Earle, a Manassas, Va., native and an assaultman with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, returned to Marjah just shy of a year after he was medically evacuated with two punctured lungs and a chipped vertebra, injuries he sustained during an insurgent ambush in Marjah in 2010.
His squad stopped at a local mosque to speak to an elder, when two men drove up on motorcycles and brought the Marines a warning. They said insurgents were planning to ambush the Marines from multiple directions as soon as they left the mosque. The Marines heeded the warning and decided to wait until dusk to leave; they hoped the enemy wouldn’t attack as valuable sunlight faded.
Earle said he was running toward the side of the road and reaching for his rocket system, which was his primary weapon as an assaultman. He was shot with a 7.62 caliber round as he was reaching for his weapon system.
Earle said if he wasn’t reaching back at that moment, the round would have struck him in the arm, but instead the round punctured his right lung, collapsed his left lung, and chipped a vertebra before exiting through his back.
“Last thing I remember was a big firefight,” said Earle, a 2006 graduate of Osborne High School. “There is a six-day window I cannot remember except for bits and pieces.”
The Marines and sailors on scene filled Earle in on the details.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew A. Dishmon, a Jamestown, Tenn., native and a corpsman with 3/6, was with Earle on that unforgettable day. Dishmon, who was directly in front of Earle on the patrol, said he was the only one to see Earle go down.
“Doc” Dishmon, as he is known by his fellow service members, said he yelled, “Earle’s hit!” None of the other members of the squad could hear him over the machine gun fire, and it was at that instant he made the decision to go back into the line of fire to rescue his friend.
“I ran to get him out of the middle of the road,” said Dishmon, as he recalled the scene. “I grabbed him, pulled him off to the side, and began working on him.”
Dishmon asked Earle where he was shot; Earle was only able to mumble one word, “back.” Dishmon took off the wounded Marine’s personal protect equipment and started tending to his wounds.
The corpsman said he placed an occlusive dressing over the entrance and exit holes the bullet made to stop Earle’s sucking chest wound. Unaware that both of Earle’s lungs were damaged, Dishmon quickly realized the situation was much worse than he originally assessed.
“I noticed his chest was unequal. I gave him a needle thoracentesis, (also known as needle decompression),” said Dishmon, referring to a procedure to relieve the pressure building in Earle’s chest. “He had two punctured lungs; that is why it filled up so fast.”
The battle stopped as the sun edged over the horizon, but for Earle, the fight for his life was far from over. The Marines assisting Dishmon called their command to request a helicopter for a medical evacuation. As Earle lost blood and began to loose consciousness, Dishmon and the Marines assisting him never lost hope.
“From what I’ve gathered, I (died) twice on the ground and once in the air,” explained Earle. “At one time I guess my status was changed from ‘urgent’ to ‘routine killed in action.’” Once they got Earle to the hospital, the doctors were able to stabilize him and address his injuries. Earle said he attributes his survival to the quick actions of Doc Dishmon and believes one wrong decision made by Dishmon could have meant Earle’s death.
“They said I had about a minute 30 left (to live) by their estimation when I got to (the hospital),” said Earle, who is expecting his first child soon. “That minute and 30 seconds could have been Doc deciding what to do or waiting for a break in the fire.”
Earle was released for full duty shortly before his current deployment, but he said it was important to him to come back to Marjah. Now serving as a squad leader with the same company, Earle said he realized he could use his near-death experience to teach the young Marines under his charge. He said he ultimately came back to Marjah for his Marines and to show them one person can make a difference.
“A lot of people say one person can’t make a difference, but especially in the infantry, one person can literally mean the life or death of people,” said Earle. “Dishmon is a testament to that. If he hadn’t gone out on that patrol, I wouldn’t be here.”
Editor’s note: India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th 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 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.