SAN ANTONIO – When Chance Darby received the helmet that saved his life in Afghanistan, he said it successfully stopped an enemy rifle bullet but left him with two big headaches.
One headache lasted a few days after the impact from a high-velocity round. The other lasted several weeks as he tried to keep the news of the incident from his mother, Lynlee Darby, and his then-fiancée and now wife, Cheryl.
Chance proposed to Cheryl shortly before deploying to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. On May 31, 2012, Taliban ambushed his platoon while it was dismantling an improvised explosive device. Chance and his fellow Soldiers were only a month or two before the end of their Afghanistan tour. He described what happened.
“My gunner and I began laying down fire when I got hit,” Chance said. “My squad sergeant, who had been directing our fire, also got hit in the head and went down.” Chance, an Army specialist at the time, shook off the hard blow and continued fighting. The round knocked his squad sergeant unconscious for 10 to 15 seconds. He then revived and rejoined the battle, which lasted for 90 minutes before the enemy withdrew. Chance did not want to tell his family about the incident even though, thanks to the Advanced Combat Helmet, both he and his squad sergeant survived essentially unharmed.
“I just didn’t want them to worry,” said Chance, who finished his enlistment and now works in the oil industry.
His fiancée recalled talking with Chance after the incident.
“I could tell something sounded different when he called me and said the guys went out on patrol without him,” said Cheryl, who recently graduated from Texas A&M University. “I finally pried it out of him because he got tired of me asking him.”
His mother Lynlee was the last to know her son had taken a bullet to the head.
“I only found out because the mother of one of his buddies over there called to tell me how glad she was for me, and how angels were looking out after Chance,” Lynlee said. “I wondered what she was talking about, so I kept her talking until I got the whole story. Then I emailed him and said, “Call me. NOW!”
Chance, Cheryl, Lynlee, a sister and brother-in-law, and a collection of nieces and a nephew traveled to San Antonio for the short ceremony. Program Executive Office Soldier’s command sergeant major presented Chance with his helmet.
“Let me present a real American hero,” Command Sergeant Major Doug Maddi said as he presented Chance with the helmet mounted on wooden display stand. Maddi is the senior non-commissioned officer of PEO Soldier, the Army organization responsible for development and initial fielding of all the equipment worn or used by individual Soldiers. This includes helmets, body armor, uniforms, small arms, and night vision goggles.
Chance said his protective equipment made a believer out of him.
“Everybody used to say they hated wearing their helmets,” he recalled with a smile, “But I love mine now. I would wear it anywhere.”
Cheryl is also appreciative of the helmet.
“I love the Army equipment and how it protected Chance,” Cheryl said. “I had seen pictures of his helmet, but it is different when you see it in person. When you see how close the bullet shot was, it takes my breath away.”
The couple, who married one year after the incident, said they hope to build a house. “This helmet is going to sit right there on the mantle,” Chance said as he held it in his hands.
“You know, when my first sergeant told me I was going to get the helmet back, I figured it would just arrive in a box,” Chance said. “I had no idea that PEO Soldier and the Army would hold this ceremony or that they would put it on this display. That’s awesome, and I am very thankful for it.”