Congresswoman Liz Cheney attended a Purple Heart Ceremony at F.E. Warren honoring TSgt Douglas G. Smits who was injured while serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Member in Afghanistan. Read TSgt Smits’ story of bravery and selflessness below:
“On 7 March 2007, SrA Douglas Smits, while serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Member, was the driver of his Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle supporting a Coalition Forces ground assault convoy into the volatile Ghorak Valley in southern Afghanistan. His team, along with members of the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division were supporting one of the largest NATO operations to date, OPERATION Achilles. The goal of OPERATION Achilles was to improve security within Helmand Province, an area to be known as a safe haven for insurgent forces, comprised of both Taliban and al-Qaeda members. The overall objective of OPERATION Achilles was twofold; first, to secure a hydroelectric dam that was crucial to the reconstruction efforts being led to improve the quality of life and provide electricity for nearly two million Afghan civilians in the region, and second, to eliminate the insurgent forces in the area responsible for the security of the poppy fields in the region. Afghanistan’s opium poppy production goes into more than 90% of heroin worldwide and the country has been the world’s greatest illicit opium producer since 1992, which is the primary source of funding for insurgent fighters throughout the region.
At approximately 11 a.m., a large detonation occurred directly under the front of SrA Smits’ 51,000 lbs. vehicle. The subsequent blast and fireball totally consumed the front end of the vehicle and violently flung open the passenger side door, filling the cab with dirt, smoke, and debris from the explosion. The sheer force of the blast lifted the vehicle in the air, stripped off the front passenger side wheel, and launched heavy metal pieces of the wreckage several hundred feet from the blast site. After the detonation, SrA Smits quickly regained his composure and without regard to his own safety and injuries, which would be later diagnosed as a Traumatic Brain Injury, located his Team Leader and performed first aid for injuries sustained during the explosion. He then assisted clearing the area of possible secondary devices targeting responding forces and performed a Post Blast Analysis on their own vehicle. His observations aided in determining the blast crater, which was consistent with one created by a large anti-tank mine containing more than 30lbs of explosives, was responsible for the destruction of their vehicle. Due to the remote location where the detonation occurred, there were no Medical Treatment Facilities available and the only option for a medical evaluation would have required an aerial medical evacuation. Despite being in a severe explosion the team did not request medical evacuation, as they felt the team could still function to contribute to the success of the mission and requesting a medical evacuation would have taken assets away from potential higher priorities, in this fast moving operation. SrA Smits and his team remained in the kill zone, vigilantly securing their disabled vehicle until recovery assets arrived five days later. During this time he continued to provide EOD support to the 82nd Airborne and Coalition Forces.
On 9 March 2007, without the safety of an armored vehicle and utilizing a medical stretcher to transport equipment, he assisted with the disarming of an emplaced Improvised Explosive Device directly targeting Coalition Forces. The success of the IED operation provided valuable insight into the enemy tactics of using anti-personal mines to initiate larger improvised main charges, saving countless lives. While their vehicle was disabled, he traversed this hastily emplaced mine field under the constant threat of potentially stepping on a mine. During the initial phase of OPERATION Achilles, from 6 March 2007 until the time of recovery on 11 March 2007, seven coalition vehicles detonated from mine and IED strikes within a 10 kilometer radius of where SrA Smits’ vehicle was struck and disabled. He successfully cleared the area of secondary devices while performing post blast assessments on each vehicle strike in spite of his own vehicle being disabled. When a replacement vehicle arrived on 11 March 2007 his team continued to support OPERATION Achilles until 28 March 2007. He performed 14 more EOD missions, which included additional IEDs, Enemy Remnants of War, Weapons Cashes, and several Post Blast Analysis. His selfless dedication and professionalism was essential in providing Coalition Forces the freedom of movement to establish overwhelming dominance within the volatile battlespace.”