Story by Maj. Joseph Buccino, RC-East
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Once in a while in combat, an event occurs that helps humanize warfare. When soldiers here were able to save a child gravely injured by an insurgent improvised explosive device, it became such an event.
Between March 14 and March 25, the Soldiers of Company B, “Blackjack,” Task Force 3-66, 172nd Infantry Brigade, Task Force Blackhawk, experienced a life-altering chain of events.Blackjack soldiers responded March 14 to a blast in Kushamond district in the compound of Saduzi, a known Taliban member. An IED had detonated.
Sgt. Anthony Merino, senior medic for Company B, Task Force 3-66, 172nd Infantry Brigade, and Capt. Giles Wright, Company B commander, pose for a picture at COP Kushamond, Paktika province, Afghanistan, with Matten, an eight-year-old Afghan boy whose face was severely damaged and blinded by an insurgent IED. Merino saved Matten’s life, but the insurgent IED blinded him. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. David Barnes)
Upon arriving at the scene, they realized the insurgent device killed four children who appeared to be playing in the area. At the time they didn’t know it, but one child, Saduzi’s eight-year-old son Matten, survived the blast.Within minutes, a man named Sultan, who lives in a neighboring home, carried the severely injured Matten to Combat Outpost Kushamond.
Sgt. Anthony Merino, the unit’s senior medic, reacted immediately and began treating the child.
After Merino stabilized Matten, the soldiers prepared to move him onto the aircraft. Unit-members Sgt. Michael and Pfc. Cody Sandstrom, along with Sultan, escorted the boy from Kushamond to the Sharana Medical Treatment Facility and then to the Craig Joint-Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield.
Torres, Sandstrom, and Sultan remained with Matten in Bagram for 10 days while he underwent surgery for multiple facial lacerations. According to Maj. Bradley S. Putty, the hospital’s deputy commander for clinical services, doctors performed a complex procedure to remove a ball bearing from the boy’s eye socket. They performed additional surgeries on both eyelids.
“The boy’s eyes were injured beyond repair and a follow-up surgery was performed to implant prosthetic eyes,” Putty said.
Over the course of the 10 days, hospital staff members saw that the boy’s clothes and shoes were destroyed by the blast, and donated new clothes, shoes and toys. In addition to hospital workers donating, they received contributions from people in the U.S. as well.
“This was a deliberate outreach effort,” Putty added. “This child was a victim of this war.”
On March 24, the boy was released from the hospital and flown to FOB Sharana. On March 25, he was back at Kushamond with Torres, Sandstrom and Sultan.
He was greeted by Adam Khan, a representative from the Kushamond district sub-governor, and Capt. Giles Wright, Company B commander.
“Matten was stable and in excellent spirits, and even offered a few jokes,” Wright said. “It was evident he was a child willing to live for the future of Afghanistan.”
Although blind for life and severely scarred by the insurgent bomb, Matten is grateful for his life. He has since been escorted to his village by Adam Khan, who accepted guardianship and responsibility for the boy on behalf of the Afghan government. Matten’s father, Sudazi, abandoned the boy and is possibly hiding outside Paktika province. The Afghan Uniform Police here intend to maintain persistent watch over him, and villagers vowed to protect the boy.
All those involved were greatly moved by the boy’s spirit and the humanity of the event.
“It affected me,” Torres said. “It demonstrated the human side of this conflict. The compassion of the American soldiers here and Bagram, and of the local villagers, really showed the pain of all of this.”