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Bullet-damaged helmet returned to local soldier

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Le Mars Troop C Spc. Tom Albers, of Alton, received his bullet-damaged helmet Saturday. Fellow guardsmen took pictures of Albers and the helmet which saved him from serious injury or death when he was shot May 28, 2011, while deployed with Troop C in Afghanistan.
Tom Albers, of Alton, remembers the feeling of being hit on the head with a baseball bat on May 28, 2011.

But Albers wasn't playing baseball.

He was at the top of a hill in Kafshan Valley, Parwan Providence in Afghanistan.

(Sentinel photo by Joanne Glamm) Iowa National Guard Spc. Tom Albers, of Alton, explains the path a rifle bullet followed when it struck his helmet while he was on patrol in Afghanistan in May 2011. He was deployed with Le Mars Troop C.
Albers was deployed for active duty with Le Mars Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry of the Iowa Army National Guard.

The guardsmen were in an area where the Afghan National Police (ANP) had told them there might be Taliban or others the ANP wanted to try to find, Albers said.

"I was going to tell the guy on my left that there was a house on the right side of me," Albers said.

As he was saying that, something hit his head and he fell to the ground, he said.

Spc. Thanh Truong, of Sioux City, was coming up the hill right behind Spc. Albers.

"I asked him what happened and he said his head hurt and I said 'I'm glad you're fine' and later on we found out he actually got struck by the bullet," Truong said.

Albers was replaced by Truong as part of security for the soldiers who were on patrol when they came under fire.

Sgt. Blake Coughlin, of Allen, Neb., was also with Albers.

"I'd seen a yellow patch on the back side of his head and that didn't look right -- his eyes were like he had a bit of a concussion," Coughlin said.

After a medic checked Albers, Coughlin said plans were made to get the guardsman and everyone out of the area safely.

A third solider who was with Troop C on deployment, Staff Sgt. Adam Riediger, of Lawton, said he knew Albers had been hit.

"I asked him what had happened because he was coherent," Riediger said. "He said 'I think I got shot.'"

He recalls touching Albers' helmet because Albers told him he'd been hit in the helmet.

"I told him he was one lucky soldier," Riediger said.

The soldiers from Troop C were on the patrol with military personnel from the French Foreign Legion, he said.

The security patrol continued in order to get Albers away from the area to be checked out by medical personnel at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Riediger said.

Albers was the only person who was shot, but that wasn't known by the troops' executive officer, Derek Kinnison, current Troop C commander.

Kinnison was in the Tactical Operations Center in Afghanistan.

"It was an absolute bees' nest of trying to stay calm and really figure out what happened because, at first, it feels like the sky is falling when you hear about a soldier, especially in your own unit, getting injured or hit or something like that," he said.

It was the first time anything like a solider being shot had happened in the unit since it was deployed to Afghanistan in August 2010, Kinnison said.

"At the time he was the luckiest man in Afghanistan," he said of Albers.

Kinnison was in Le Mars this past Saturday to return Albers' bullet-damaged helmet to the Troop C soldier.

He made the presentation with an audience of approximately 70 members of Troop C who were at the armory for training.

It was an honor to give Albers the helmet so it can be in his family for generations, Kinnison said.

"May this helmet be a reminder that you are a very fortunate man, but also a hardened warrior," he said.

He also thanked Albers for loyalty and courage and led a thunderous round of applause from guardsmen watching the presentation.

The ceremony was the first time since he was shot that Albers had seen the helmet, known in the military as the Advanced Combat Helmet.

After the helmet was damaged in Afghanistan, it was sent to the technical management division of Program Executive Officer Soldier (PEO Soldier).

The Fort Belvoir, Va.-based PEO Soldier provides clothing and equipment, including helmets, to military personnel, according to PEO Soldier Command Sgt. Maj. Emmett Maunakea.

"When a soldier is wounded or killed in combat, the equipment is returned to PEO Soldier," he said.

Using different machines, the helmet was evaluated to assess damage and determine how it performed, he explained.

In Albers' case, the helmet performed better than expected, Maunakea said.

Helmets are tested for up to a 9mm handgun round of multiple shots, he said.

Albers' helmet protected him from rifle fire in Afghanistan, according to the PEO Solider military officer.

"This was a rifle round traveling must faster, with a lot more impact, and the helmet was still able to defeat that round," Maunakea said.

After testing of damaged equipment is complete, the unit the soldier was with is contacted about returning the equipment, he said.

When his helmet was given back to him Saturday Albers, 22, said he planned to find a "good spot" for it in his house.

"The last time I remember seeing the helmet I was sitting in a helicopter looking at the inside and seeing the pads (inside the helmet) all tore up," he said.

Albers was in a medical evacuation helicopter enroute to Bagram.

On Saturday, he offered a lesson from his experience of being spared serious injury because he was wearing the helmet.

"Keep your head down and always wear the right equipment because it actually does make a difference and it protects you," he said.

He was in the second year of a five-year contract with the Iowa National Guard when he was shot 19 months ago.

"Ever since I could talk, I talked about the Air Force, the Army or the Marines," Albers said.

He approached his parents about joining the guard when he was 17 years-old and attending MOC-Floyd Valley High School, in Orange City.

He has not made a decision about future duty with the Guard when the contract is up, he said.

But he said does believe Troop C and other military personnel have made a difference.

A lot of civilians in Afghanistan were appreciative of what was done by the American military, Albers said.

Schools have been built and roads have been put in, he said.

"There's a lot of bad press out there about the military but we're always trying to do good things," Albers said.

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one lucky solder, it's time to bring our children back home from that hell hole

-- Posted by fadersharley on Tue, Jan 15, 2013, at 4:19 PM

You are correct, we have no business being there.

-- Posted by freedom1776 on Wed, Jan 16, 2013, at 1:18 PM

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