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NCO Receives Soldier's Medal for Minefield Rescue
Discussion Board on this Respect item
By U.S. Army Pfc. Ryan Smith
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service), Dec. 30, 2003--U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Scott Smullen, a soldier with the 27th Engineer Battalion, recently received the Soldier's Medal at Fort Bragg, N.C., for his actions in Afghanistan.
While serving as a squad leader in C Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Smullen risked his life to save an injured soldier.
" Our platoon was conducting mine-clearance operations at Bagram Air Base," Smullen said. "We cleared safe lanes for further mine-clearing operations to be conducted. We use titanium probes - we push them into the ground and feel for land mines."
During the April 21 operation, one of the soldiers, Sgt. Camilo Molina, was injured in an explosion. "While we were clearing the lanes, (Molina) stepped on a mine and blew his left foot off," Smullen said.
At first, the engineers didn't realize anyone had been injured. "Initially, I didn't think (the explosion) was anything. (Explosive ordnance disposal teams) had been working in the area, so my first thought was that they had blown up some unexploded ordnance," Smullen said. "Then the mine-detector operator who was working in that area yelled for help, so we knew that something had happened."
Once the rest of the platoon was aware of Molina's injury, they had to negotiate the minefield to get to him, Smullen said.
"We were all pretty close to the area, so me and my team leader ran over there and started clearing a safe area up to him," he said. "The first thing we did was make sure he was conscious. He was a little disoriented, of course. My team leader Sgt. (George) Day and I took our belts off and threw them to him - he was about 10 meters away - and instructed him to apply them as tourniquets. He'd injured both his legs in the incident. Once we cleared up to him, the rest of the platoon was on the scene and got him to safety."
Smullen said Day stayed behind him, watching to make sure he stayed in the area he had already cleared as he made his way to Molina. "From the time he stepped on the mine to the time we evacuated him 500 meters to the road took less than 10 minutes," Smullen said. "It was really quick."
Day said that thanks to the training the platoon had received, the rescue went smoothly. "All the training we did for casualty evacuation and how to probe a minefield really came into play. It flowed like clockwork," Day said. "Everybody just came together."
Day also said that Molina remained calm and in good spirits throughout the ordeal. "He actually made a joke - he asked if we could hurry," Day said.
1st Lt. Joshua Finley, Smullen's platoon leader at the time, said that Smullen definitely earned his award. "(The Soldier's Medal) is outstanding recognition for what (Smullen) did," Finley said. "I saw it with my own eyes, and it really was an act of heroism. He really deserves this award."
Finley said that Smullen and the other soldiers involved in the rescue reacted quickly and efficiently because they had rehearsed similar scenarios before.
"We went through a lot of training once we were in-theater, learning how to do a minefield check. Then we'd practice it and practice it," he said. "When it actually happens, you just go on autopilot; everything shuts off and you just do it."
Finley also said that even in the wake of the accident and the subsequent rescue, the engineers in the unit didn't forget their mission. “After the adrenaline stops pumping, you get a sense of, 'Wow, what did I just do?'” he said. "You can get a little gun-shy, but the Soldiers we work with wanted to get back out there. They didn't want to leave off just because they had a setback. They wanted to keep going with the job."
Smullen said that he was surprised to receive the Soldier's Medal for his actions that day. "(Getting the medal) is kind of surreal. It's unexpected, and sometimes I think it's unwarranted - I think the whole platoon deserves the recognition," Smullen said.
"We all just worked and executed what we were trained to do. It was a group effort - the whole platoon pulled together that day. The whole platoon saved (Molina's) life," said Smullen.
Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commander, presented Smullen the award.