Three Desert Lightning Team members received Purple Heart medals for an event that occurred during their recent deployment.
On Oct. 5, 2012, a 107mm rocket hit the air conditioning unit directly outside the Metals Technology shop at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan injuring three Airmen deployed from D-M.
Airman 1st Class Michael Kristopik and Airman 1st Class Garron Reeves, both 355th Equipment maintenance Squadron structural maintenance technicians and Airman 1st Class Tyler Angelo, 355th Equipment maintenance Squadron aircrafts metals technology journeyman, were on a 6-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Angelo was working on a lathe making a bushing when he heard a couple of loud bangs. He wasn’t entirely sure what it was, because the warning sirens had not gone off. As he turned around to gauge a co-worker’s reaction a rocket hit the shop.
“I saw Kristopik and Reeves about 50 feet away from me. The next thing I saw was a bright flash of light, then dust and smoke everywhere; and Kristopik and Reeves were gone,” Angelo said. “I was almost 100 percent sure they were dead, because they were right next to where the rocket hit.”
Angelo took cover behind a maintenance mill. Angelo felt pressure on the right side of his head but was more concerned with putting on his battle rattle than finding the source of the pressure. When the opportunity presented itself, Angelo ran to the bunker where other Airmen pointed out he had shrapnel sticking out of his head.
Kristopik and Reeves was sitting in the break room getting ready for the shift to turn over when the chaos began.
“I suddenly heard what sounded like a car door slamming,” Kristopik said. “Almost simultaneously, one of the National Guard Airmen took off as two blasts shook the building.”
Kristopik and Reeves realized it wasn’t a car door at all.
“I was on the phone with my mom when we heard the first rocket hit,” Reeves said. “I didn’t want to alarm her so instead of using the word ‘rocket’, I asked Kristopik ‘Is that thunder?’ hoping he would understand the reference.”
Once they determined it was, in fact, an attack, both Airmen followed protocol.
“I started to run for the bunker as did everyone else in the room,” Kristopik said.
While running for the door, Kristopik heard more explosions and wished he had his battle rattle on. Once he was out of the building, he heard another explosion behind him and was thrown to the ground. The 107mm rocket hit the air conditioning unit, which was located 10 feet from the shop door and about 15 feet behind Kristopik and Reeves.
“The force of the explosion slammed me to my hands and knees. It felt like I was tackled by a defensive lineman,” Kristopik said. “While on my hands and knees, I noticed blood on the ground in front of me. The first thing that ran through my mind was that someone was hurt, and then realized that it was me that was bleeding. It looked as though I had been peppered with a shot gun.”
Kristopik lost sight of Reeves, and was worried because he heard him give out a yell.
“I took cover on the side of a storage container and yelled his name out three times, but did not get a reply,” Kristopik said. “I was really worried about him. But with the shop covered in a dust cloud, and metal and hardware scattered everywhere, there was nothing I could do but get to the bunker, let everyone know that I was okay and then get help so search for Reeves.”
The Airmen credit their military training for their reaction during the attack. Angelo says as the ‘flight or fight’ training kicked in, he knew what he had to do to survive. Kristopik feels that it is due to his training that he was aware of what to do and how to react.
“Had I never received that training I would have freaked out,” Kristopik said. “I would have been more concerned about myself, as opposed to making sure everyone else was alright.”