March 26, 2012 —
U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Torres, rifle section leader, Bravo Company, Task Force 3-66; Sultan, a villager from Kushamond district, Paktika province; and Pfc. Cody Sandstrom, Company B, TF 3-66; stand with Matten, an 8-year-old boy who was blinded and whose face was severely damaged by an improvised explosive device, March 14.
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (March 26, 2012) — Once in a while, an event occurs that develops the human perspective of warfare into the mission in Afghanistan. The soldiers of Blackjack, or Company Bravo, Task Force 3-66, 172nd Infantry Brigade, Task Force Blackhawk, participated in such a life-changing set of events from March 14 through March 25.
On the afternoon of March 14, soldiers from Blackjack responded to a blast in Kushamond district in the qalat of Saduzi. An improvised explosive device, stored for a planned attack on Coalition Forces and Afghan National Security Forces operating within the district, detonated prematurely.
Upon arriving at the scene, the soldiers realized that the detonation killed four children who appeared to be playing in the area and may have unwittingly engaged the trigger device.
They did not know it, but one child, Saduzi’s 8-year-old son, Matten, survived the blast.
Within minutes, a man named Sultan who lives in a neighboring qalat, carried the severely injured Matten to Combat Outpost Kushamond.
U.S. Army Sgt. Anthony Merino from Basstrop, Texas, senior medic for the company, reacted immediately, treating the surviving child at the entry control point.
“I assessed and stabilized the patient while we called in a medical evacuation,” said Merino. “He was losing his airway. Had we not been able to treat him when we did, his wounds would certainly have been fatal.”
The boy was prepared for movement on an aircraft. Sgt. Michael Torres from Amarillo, Texas, and Pfc. Cody Sandstrom, along with Sultan, escorted the boy from Kushamond to the Sharana Medical Treatment Facility and then to the Craig Joint-Theater Hospital at Bagram Air Field.
Torres, Sandstrom, and Sultan remained with Matten in Bagram for 10 days while surgery was performed on his multiple facial lacerations.
According to Maj. Bradley S. Putty, CJTH deputy-commander for clinical services, a complex procedure was performed to remove a ball bearing from the boy’s eye socket. Additional surgeries were performed on both sets of eyelids.
Finally, according to Putty, “The boy’s eyes were injured beyond repair and a follow-up surgery was performed to implant prosthetic eyes.”
Craig hospital staff noticed the boy’s clothes and shoes were destroyed by the blast, so they donated new clothes, sneakers and toys.
This action was a stark contrast to the reports of recent events in Kandahar.
“This was a deliberate outreach effort,” Putty said. “This child was a victim of this war.”
On March 24, the boy was released from the hospital and flown to Forward Operating Base Sharana and on March 25, he was flown back onto COP Kushamond with Torres, Sandstrom, and Sultan.
He was greeted on the COP by Adam Khan, a representative from the office of the Kushamond district sub-governor, and Capt. Giles Wright, the commander of Company B.
“Matten was stable and in excellent spirits and even offered a few jokes,” Wright said. “It was evident; he was a child willing to live for the future of Afghanistan.”
Although blind for life and severely scarred, Matten is grateful for his life. Matten has since been escorted to his village by Adam Khan, who has accepted guardianship and responsibility for the boy on behalf of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Afghan Uniform Police intend to maintain persistent watch over him and the villagers have vowed to protect the boy. Matten’s father, [Suduzi], is believed to be hiding outside of Paktika province and is currently a wanted individual.
All those involved were greatly moved by the boy’s spirit and the humanity of the event.
“It demonstrated the human side of this conflict,” Torres said. “The compassion of the American soldiers here and [at] Bagram and of the local villagers really showed the pain of all of this.”