A new father, an IED ‘Ace’ receive Army-issued armor that saved their lives

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (June 11, 2015) – Neither man remembers the exact moment their Army-issued personal protective equipment saved their lives.

When Staff Sgt. Joseph Mata and 1st Lieutenant Sean Johnson received their old battle-scarred equipment in two brief ceremonies at the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) here, they recalled reviving after surviving explosions and realizing that they were still alive.

Matta and helmet closeupSergeant Mata, of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st ABN DIV, received his heavily dented Advanced Combat Helmet that saved his live in a short ceremony June 11 with his unit.

Sergeant Mata was in a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle patrolling near Forward Operating Base Shank near Mata Khan, Afghanistan, on Sept. 16, 2010, when the enemy detonated a large improvised explosive device. The bomb blew off the MRAP’s rear axle, ripped off the hatch of the vehicle and tossed the heavy vehicle nearly 15 feet. The explosion killed an Afghan interpreter. Sergeant Mata and his three-member laser targeting team survived. His helmet absorbed the impact of him being thrown around in the armored vehicle by the blast.

“The only thing I remember was waking up,” Sergeant Mata said. “I was in a lot of pain all down my right side, but I knew exactly what happened because I have been through IED attacks before.”

Sergeant Mata has survived five IED attacks, making him an “Ace.” He was given Army medical care and checked and treated for brain trauma. The first person he contacted was his mother in Kewanee, Ill., who was “not happy and worried,” Sergeant Mata said.

“I am ecstatic to finally get my helmet back,” the sergeant said after receiving the battle-scarred head gear.

Like Sergeant Mata, Lieutenant Johnson of 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st ABN DIV does not recall the exact moment nearly two years ago when an enemy IED exploded and hurled him into the air. His men and he had successfully conducted a mission that captured a high-value enemy combatant.

Enemy IEDs hit two of the vehicles in the American convoy on the return trip. Lieutenant Johnson joined a foot patrol to clear the road for the remaining vehicles. A Soldier slightly behind him and to his right—Sgt. Corey B. Garver—stepped on an emplaced homemade mine. The blast and fragments killed Sergeant Garver instantly and tossed the lieutenant aside. He doesn’t remember the explosion.

“I just woke up and looked down and saw the lower half of my body covered with deep black smoke.” Lieutenant Johnson said. “I pushed back and was relieved to see I had my feet. So I got to my feet and walked over to the first sergeant.”

Johnson and Gold and plateLieutenant Johnson had suffered wounds in his right arm and leg. His body armor stopped the deadly shrapnel. The helmet’s ballistic nape protector saved him from a ball bearing that struck him at the base of his skull. It slowed it down so much that doctors were able to remove it from the back of his head. The Enhanced Side Ballistic Insert armor plate in his Improved Outer Tactical Vest stopped another piece of potentially lethal shrapnel. Lieutenant Johnson received that plate in another June 10 ceremony.

The Milford, N.J., native said his experience reinforced the importance of wearing Army-supplied protective gear. “Make sure your Soldiers wear their protective equipment,” Lieutenant Johnson said.

“If you lose a Soldier because he or she was not wearing their equipment that will be a tough pill to swallow when you are talking to that mom, or to that dad, or to that child,” he said. “You don’t want to live with it,” he said. “Leaders and battle buddies, make sure you wear this stuff. It works.”

Sergeant Mata and Lieutenant Johnson received their equipment from Project Executive Office Soldier, which is based at Fort Belvoir, Va. It is responsible for developing body armor, helmets, uniforms and small arms for Soldiers. PEO Soldier collects battle-damaged equipment to perform forensic engineering analysis on behalf of the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program.

Capt. Michael Gold, the Assistant Product Manager for hard armor for Product Manager Soldier Protective Equipment, represented PEO Soldier at the ceremony. He said Soldier feedback drives development of new protective equipment and informed his audience that efforts are underway to reduce the weight of body armor.

Master Sgt. Corey Ingram, the Senior Enlisted Adviser to Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, made the presentations to both Sergeant Mata and Lieutenant Johnson.

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