Protective plate stops bullet, saves life of Soldier who kept fighting

Usually a bruised rib is a cause for a Soldier’s complaint. For a White Sands Missile Range-based Soldier who survived a direct rifle shot to his chest during combat in Afghanistan, he thinks it is cause for celebration.

Sgt. Thomas Dacey holds the protective plate that saved his life.

Sgt. Thomas Dacey holds the protective plate that saved his life.

Sgt. Thomas Dacey was serving in Farah Province, Afghanistan, July 4, 2013, when insurgents attacked his unit. He had already been involved in several hours of intense combat in Afghanistan, when a burst of enemy fire struck him around 2:50 p.m. His body armor stopped the bullet—which Dacey still carries in his pocket—that delivered enough punch to break nearly one rib. Dacey said he was so “pumped up” he didn’t notice he was hit at first.

“Later when I got a moment to check myself out, I saw that I had been hit,” Dacey said.

“A bullet went through my optics, and a piece of it hit my face,” Dacey said. “Then I looked down and realized I had been shot.” Dacey next began checking to see if the round had penetrated his body armor.

“When I saw it did not, I started returning fire,” Dacey said.

Dacey’s battle buddy described the NCO’s reaction after learning he was OK. “He just kept on fighting,” said Pvt. Jacob Pinar. Dacey killed at least one of the Taliban attackers using his grenade launcher. After the fight, the Army evacuated Dacey for medical care. He received new body armor while his damaged gear went for forensic examination and analysis.

Dacey said an hour or so after he was hit, he began to experience pain when breathing. After another week or so, he went back to medical personnel. They told him that he had suffered a severely bruised lower rib from what would have otherwise been a lethal shot.

“This experience makes me grateful for life every day,” said Dacey, a native of Beverly, Mass., upon receiving his battle-damaged armor plate from Program Executive Office Soldier. This Fort Belvoir, Va.,-based organization is responsible for developing uniforms, helmets, small arms, night vision, and body armor for individual Soldiers. Dacey was grateful for receiving the plate and what it meant to him.

“Life’s short, appreciate what you have,” said Dacey as he held his 2-year-old son, Thomas M. Dacey IV. “Just be grateful for what you have.” Dacey now lives in Las Cruces, N.M., and continues to serve with the 2nd Engineering Battalion, 36th Engineering Brigade at WSMR.

Sgt. Thomas Dacey (center) and PEO Soldier’s Command Sergeant Major Doug Maddi (right) hold the display with Dacey’s protective plate. On the left is Lt. Col. Jim Koeppen, Dacey’s commander.

Sgt. Thomas Dacey (center) and PEO Soldier’s Command Sergeant Major Doug Maddi (right) hold the display with Dacey’s protective plate. On the left is Lt. Col. Jim Koeppen, Dacey’s commander.

Dacey said the plate presentation gave him a chance to remember one of his battle buddies, PFC Errol Milliard of Birmingham, Ala. A rocket-propelled grenade killed Milliard that day.

“He was the newest Soldier in our squad,” Dacey said. “He was very religious and always had a smile on his face. No matter what was happening, he always tried to make the best of it.”

As he presented Dacey his life-saving hard armor insert, PEO Soldier’s Command Sergeant Major Doug Maddi said it is important to remember the sacrifice of Milliard. “He was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

Dacey’s commander expressed his admiration for the plate-return presentation.

“I really appreciate PEO Soldier coming out to make this presentation,” said Lt. Col. Jim Koeppen. “That plate will always be in Sergeant Dacey’s house. And when his young son grows up, it will mean a lot to him. Sergeant Dacey is not a big guy. So when the Soldiers see him able to walk away after taking a 7.62 round, there is no doubt that they have confidence in their protective equipment.”

About ddawson