SAR BANADAR, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Nine months ago, a quiet 15-year-old Afghan boy had the last normal morning of his life.
As he walked along a road near his village in search of a day’s work in March, Sayed Gul struck a 20-lb. improvised explosive device.
The sound was unmistakable to Marines nearby at Patrol Base 00. A squad of infantrymen with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion set out on patrol to investigate and found the mangled boy. The blast had blown off the lower half of his left leg, peppering what remained of the limb with shrapnel.
The Marines treated the injured farmer’s son as one of their own, calling in a medical evacuation to transport him by helicopter to the Combat Support Hospital at Camp Dwyer for advanced care. While the horrifying events unfolded, Gul’s father, Alai Noor, was away from home and unaware of his son’s accident.
“I was away when my son was hit by the IED, so I didn’t know about it until the Marines had already taken him away for treatment at Camp Dwyer,” Noor, from the Baluch Jan tribe, said. “I’m grateful for the help of the Marines. I’m a poor man, and I could do nothing about my son’s injuries.”
At the Dwyer CSH, Gul’s leg was amputated above the knee, and he received three weeks of further care. His body had changed drastically, but he was still alive.
After recuperating at Camp Dwyer, the tall, black-haired boy returned to his humble farming village in Garmsir. He resumed life as he knew it, competing for space in a small mud hut with siblings and farm animals.
Months passed. Gul continued living in the dirt and his condition deteriorated. The less than sanitary surroundings and lack of medical care caused a skin infection to leak into his bloodstream.
Concerned again for his son’s life, Noor returned to PB 00 to ask the Marines for help. Through tears, he pleaded with the base’s senior enlisted man, Gunnery Sgt. Todd Leahey, to help fix his son, who was sweating and shivering from a fever. Noor said there was no hospital or clinic nearby. His son would die without treatment.
“I’m a father myself, and I can’t imagine how he felt,” said Leahey, the 81mm mortar platoon sergeant for Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
The 34-year-old St. Peters, Mo., native spoke with his higher command but was unable to find Gul transportation to nearby Patrol Base Torbert for treatment.
Leahey tried again. He visited Gul’s village to find a ride, but nobody would drive the injured boy to Torbert. But the father of two couldn’t take no for an answer.
“We care about the Afghan people beyond just fighting the insurgents,” Leahey said. “We see how bleak, dirty and austere they have it here. We’re only here seven months. Sayed will be here the rest of his life, so this was an opportunity where we could better his situation.”
Leahey took the boy to one of his Marines’ vehicle checkpoints and flagged down a mullah driving through from the north. He implored the religious leader to drive Gul to Torbert, and the man agreed.
At the position, Gul received antibiotics from U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Maxwell McGill, a 25-year old corpsman with Weapons Company, and native of Englewood, Fla. Gul’s condition quickly improved.
The scars on Gul’s leg have nearly healed, though they’ll always be a reminder of his last normal morning. He’s lived through terror and is just thankful to be alive.
“If the Marines weren’t here, maybe I’d have lost my life because nobody else would’ve been able to help me,” he said.
The IED attack that injured Noor’s son was similar to many others in southern Helmand. The men responsible for planting these lethal devices do not typically discriminate between targets. In this case, their device maimed a teenaged boy.
“Before the Marines came, the Taliban put IEDs in the ground and shot at our people.” Noor said. “My son was innocent, but the enemies of Afghanistan don’t care who they hurt. They just want to kill people.”
When Gul’s father felt helpless and worried for his son’s life, he sought out a friend he knew he could depend on.
“From the moment the Marines arrived in Garmsir, we have felt much safer and happier,” Noor said. “I was upset when it happened, but I don’t have any reason to be upset now. My son is still here because of the Marines.”
Gul travels to PB 00 with his father once a week to receive care from the Weapons Co. corpsmen.
On his Dec. 2 visit, Gul found a reason to smile. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Raangelo Kilgore took off the sock covering Gul’s leg and saw only a dime-sized open wound. Likewise, the shrapnel wounds in his thigh were healing well. The corpsman re-bandaged Gul’s leg and gave him some extra dressings.
“Helping him out is such a small thing to us, but it’s such a big thing to them — his family, his friends and his people,” said Kilgore, a 21-year-old corpsman and St. Louis native.
On a set of thin steel crutches, Gul labored through a thin layer of moon dust toward the base’s exit. The quiet boy moved past the opening of Hesco barriers and concertina wire, beginning the 600-meter journey back to his family’s hut. Gul turned his head and flashed his father a smile as the pair made their way home, side by side.
Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.