Articles

These 13 troops survived headshots thanks to their helmets

Helmets and body armor are heavy, and wearing them in desert air rippling with heat is a grueling and uncomfortable experience. But no matter how hard you've been tempted to go helmet-free for a few minutes, these 16 stories of troops surviving headshots thanks to a little Kevlar should make you a believer for life -- literally:


(Author's note: The captions and descriptions in this story were originally written by the military public affairs specialists who took the photos. They have been edited by WATM staff for length.)

1. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Bradley A. Snipes

Lance Cpl. Bradley A. Snipes, antitank assaultman, 3rd Mobile Assault Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team - 2, stands with the helmet that saved his life. (Photo: Sgt. Jerad W. Alexander, USMC)

During a 2005 mission with his platoon, Snipes was shot in the head by an enemy sniper. The only thing that saved his life was the Kevlar helmet he wore.

2. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Stumpff

Staff Sgt. Ryan Stumpff of Fort Bragg, N.C., poses in bandages holding his damaged helmet. (Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pahon, USA)

Stumpff was shot in the head by an insurgent in Khowst province, Afghanistan, but the bullet penetrated the back of his helmet, just grazed his head, and exited the front. Halberg then killed the insurgent while protecting his battle buddy.

3. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Christopher D. Hatley Jr.

Lance Cpl. Christopher D. Hatley Jr., a rifleman, takes time before a patrol for a photo.  (Photo: Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes, USMC)

Hatley thought he was hit in the head with a rock after bullets impacted a wall close to him during a 2011 operation. He and his fellow Marines realized shortly thereafter he had actually been shot in the head. His Kevlar helmet saved his life and he was left with only a severe headache.

4. Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel M. Greenwald

Cpl. Daniel M. Greenwald, an assaultman, holds up the Kevlar helmet that saved his life. (Photo: Cpl. Erik Villagran, USMC)

Greenwald was shot in the head by an insurgent sniper while conducting a vehicle checkpoint. He escaped with only a minor gash on his forehead.

5. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heath Culbertson

Tech. Sgt. Heath Culbertson, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron flight engineer, shows where a bullet entered then exited his helmet.  (Photo: Capt. Erick Saks, USAF)

Davis was uninjured when he was shot in the helmet during a mission to recover the pilots of a downed Army helicopter, April 23, 2011.

6. Marine Corps Pfc. Fred M. Linck

(Photo: Cpl. Brian Reimers, USMC)

Pfc. Fred M. Linck, an infantryman, was shot in the head and walked away from the incident. The enemy round struck his Kevlar helmet, which saved his life by stopping the bullet from penetrating his head. A piece of fragmentation caused a small laceration to the Marine's forehead, too small even for stitches.

7. This soldier (Warning: graphic imagery and language)

8. Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Keenan

Staff Sgt. Kyle Keenan, a cavalry section leader, points out the lifesaving characteristics of his Advanced Combat Helmet. (Photo: 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, U.S. Army)

Keenan was shot in the helmet at point blank range by a 9mm pistol on a mission July 1, 2007. Local tips identified an insurgent leader in a safe house in Abu Hillan, Iraq. His troops, who were originally preparing for another mission, changed focus and launched an immediate air assault to nab the cell. Keenan, unfazed by the insurgent's attempt to shoot him, leveled his shotgun and killed the enemy.

9. Army Sgt. Shawn Snyder

Sgt. Shawn Snyder displays the helmet that saved his life from a sniper in downtown Tikrit, Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Wojciechowski)

10. Afghan National Army Pvt. Sangar

Afghan National Army soldier Pvt. Sangar holds the helmet he was wearing when he was shot by an insurgent sniper while on post. (Photo: Sgt. James Mercure, USMC)

"I am not scared," Sangar said through an interpreter. "I will keep fighting next to my guys and keep wearing my helmet," he added with a laugh.

11. Army Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie

Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie receives the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) that saved his life back from Col. Neal Hoffman IV, Program Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, Program Executive Office Soldier, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on Oct. 27, 2015. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, USA)

McKenzie received minor wounds during a firefight in Afghanistan in March 2011.

12. This Marine (Warning: graphic language)

13. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Harvey

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, deputy commanding general for operations, Multi-National Division-Center, recloses the top part of Staff Sgt. Matthew Harvey's uniform after pinning a Purple Heart on him during an award ceremony March 20, 2009. (Photo: Sgt. Rodney Foliente, USA)

Harvey, a construction supervisor, was awarded his second purple heart after being shot in the helmet and suffering a wound to his left cheek from sniper fire during a route clearance mission in Najaf, Feb. 10, 2009.

(Author's note: A previous version of this article contained the story of Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Keenan twice. One of them has been removed.)

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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