March 16, 2006 started like most days for the soldiers of Alpha Company, 2/87 Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. A small patrol received their mission briefing and headed out to meet the elders of a remote village in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. The weather was warming up, signaling the start of the fighting season, and the soldiers knew it. But they didn’t know one of them would soon be hit by an RPG.
“There was definitely a sense of uneasiness,” Lt. Billy Mariani told ABC News. “There was an air about them of, you know, maybe something was going to happen.”
There was no way for the soldiers to know just how intense that something was going to be.
After four hours of driving, the patrol approached the village. They were ambushed by Taliban fighters using small arms and RPGs. As the convoy fought its way out of the kill zone, one of the vehicles, carrying Staff Sgt. Eric Wynn, Pvt. Channing Moss, and the platoon medic Spc. Jarod Angell, was struck by three RPGs.
One of the rounds pierced the front windshield of the vehicle, nearly taking off Sgt. Wynn’s face in the process, and struck Moss, who was in the gunner’s turret, in the left hip. The impact threw him against the vehicle while the round shattered his pelvis, tore through his abdominal region, and lodged in his right thigh. The tailfin was still sticking out the other side. Moss was still alive and still conscious.
“I smelled something smoking and looked down,” Moss said. “And I was smoking.”
Moss was lucky Doc Angell was seated below him in the Humvee. The medic got right to work dressing the wound. He bandaged Moss and secured the unexploded ordinance protruding from Moss to keep it from exploding. Lt. Mariani received the wounded report from Sgt. Wynn and called for a MEDEVAC, but he left out one crucial detail: one of his wounded was a potentially ticking bomb.
As the firefight died down, the MEDEVAC came in to evacuate the wounded but immediately noticed the RPG tailfin sticking out of Moss. The Army has a policy against transporting patients in Moss’ condition as they pose a risk for a catastrophic event that could bring down the helicopter. Fortunately for Moss, these brave souls had no intention of leaving a wounded soldier to die. After a quick conferral, the crew decided to load and evacuate him.
The helicopter landed safely at the aid station at Orgun-E where Moss was handed over to a surgical team. Going against protocol once again the surgical team, assisted by an EOD technician on the base, began the process of removing the live round from Moss’ abdomen.
Army policy states that soldiers wounded with unexploded ordinance are to be put in a blast secure area and treated as expectant (that is to say they aren’t going to make it) but Maj. John Oh and Maj. Kevin Kirk just simply could not do that.
To determine just how dangerous this surgery would be, the team first had to x-ray Moss to see what they were dealing with. They were fortunate, the main explosive of the warhead had come off before entering moss. However, there was still enough explosive and propellant remaining to kill Moss and maim anyone working on him.
After an intense surgery that required them to wear body armor to protect themselves, they were able to remove the unexploded round from Moss and save his life. The trauma to Moss’ internal organs was intense and a significant portion of his large intestine had to be removed.
Moss was transferred through the usual evacuee route going through hospitals in Afghanistan and Germany before arriving at Walter Reed. He would need several more surgeries and a great deal of physical therapy, but he would eventually recover to the point of being able to walk with a cane.
After being discharged from the Army, Moss returned to Georgia to attend college and raise his family.