Two Fort Carson Soldiers received battle-damaged gear that saved their lives in Afghanistan

SGT Aaron Herbst displays the Enhanced Side Ballistic Insert that saved his life.

SGT Aaron Herbst displays the Enhanced Side Ballistic Insert that saved his life.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Oct. 15, 2015) – Two Soldiers recalled the instant when huge explosions in Afghanistan nearly took their lives as they were reunited Oct. 15 at Fort Carson, Colo., with the battle-damaged equipment that saved their lives.

SGT Aaron Herbst received his Enhanced Side Ballistic Insert (ESBI) and SGT Christopher Thompson received his Advanced Combat Helmet from MSG Corey Ingram, senior enlisted adviser for Product Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment (PM SPIE). This organization oversees development of helmets, body armor, uniforms, parachutes, and other clothing and protective equipment. PM SPIE is part of Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier), which is also responsible for night vision goggles, small arms, laser targeting equipment and a variety of other equipment.

For Sergeant Herbst, his brush with death came in Afghanistan when an 82mm anti-tank round barely missed him and slammed into a mud brick building roughly 10 feet away. The blast threw Herbst, who was serving as the platoon radio operator, to the ground and hit him with red hot fragments that ripped into his upper left arm, lower left leg, and right knee. Though he was wounded, the hard ballistic inserts of his body armor stopped several other lethal fragments and saved his life.

“It was on May 18, 2011,” said SGT Herbst, who now serves with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Fort Carson. “I was standing next to the door of a grape-drying hut when the round hit the corner of the building. I was wounded and had to low crawl under enemy fire to get to cover. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had suffered mild traumatic brain injury (a concussion), so the rest of the firefight was pretty much a blur. It was over in about 10 minutes, and I was taken for medical care.”

It took SGT Herbst some time to contact his parents, living in Eagle Mountain, Utah, because his injury affected his memory for a while. He found it difficult to recall phone numbers. Working through friends and friends of friends, he was able to get the word to his parents within four days.

At the Oct. 15 ceremony, MSG Ingram reunited him with the ESBI plate that stopped the lethal fragments. “Our goal is to develop the best possible protective equipment for the Soldier,” MSG Ingram said. “Bringing Soldiers home is what motivates all of us at PEO Soldier.”

Thompson and helmet

MSG Corey Ingram holds the Advanced Combat Helmet that saved SGT Christopher Thompson prior to presenting the display to the NCO.

SGT Herbst said, “Getting the plate back is great. It is going to hang on my wall.”

SGT Thompson’s incident also took place in Afghanistan. He was driving in a mounted convoy during a clearing operation in the eastern part of the nation almost four years to the day he was reunited with his live-saving helmet. On Oct. 18, 2011 his vehicle triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) containing several hundred pounds of explosive.

“It was around noon, and we were clearing a route in eastern Afghanistan, in an up-armored vehicle,” SGT Thompson said. “We had passed through the area earlier, but on the return, we hit the IED.”

“The front rollers (IED-defeat devices) and the RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) cage were blown off. Even the engine block was cracked. The center console of the vehicle blew out and cut my leg,” SGT Thompson said. “I suffered mild traumatic brain injury, but I knew what happened, because this was my second IED on the same deployment.”

“I called my wife while I was in the hospital. She suspected something because I didn’t call at my usual time,” SGT Thompson continued. “I told her that that I was fine, but that she might get notified that I would be injured and she started crying.”

“This helmet has sentimental value for me because it reminds me of my brothers in arms whom I deployed with and with whom I became a family,” he said. “It is also a constant reminder to always wear your protective gear. It will save your life.”

About Debra Dawson