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
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
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
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)
The video is so graphic that it’s age-restricted and only available to watch directly on YouTube.
8. Army Staff Sgt. Kyle Keenan
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
10. Afghan National Army Pvt. Sangar
“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
McKenzie received minor wounds during a firefight in Afghanistan in March 2011.
12. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Harvey
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.)