Afghanistan rocket attack tested three D-M Purple Heart honorees
By Senior Airman Camilla Griffin, 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 06, 2013
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz., -- Injuries sustained during a 2012 rocket attack in Afghanistan earned three Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Airmen Purple Hearts.
On Oct. 5, 2012, a 107mm rocket hit the air conditioning unit directly outside the Metals Technology shop at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, injuring the 355th Equipment maintenance Squadron Airmen.
Airmen 1st Class Michael Kristopik and Garron Reeves, both structural maintenance technicians and Airman 1st Class Tyler Angelo, aircrafts metals technology journeyman, were on a six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Angelo was working on a lathe making a bushing when he heard a couple of loud bangs. He wasn't entirely sure what it was, because the warning sirens had not gone off. As he turned around to gauge a co-worker's reaction, a rocket hit the shop.
"I saw Kristopik and Reeves about 50 feet away from me. The next thing I saw was a bright flash of light, then dust and smoke everywhere...Kristopik and Reeves were gone," Angelo said. "I was almost 100 percent sure they were dead, because they were right next to where the rocket hit."
Angelo took cover behind a maintenance mill. Angelo felt pressure on the right side of his head but was more concerned with putting on his protective Kevlar than finding the source of the pressure. When the opportunity presented itself, Angelo ran to the bunker where other Airmen pointed out he had shrapnel sticking out of his head.
Kristopik and Reeves were sitting in the break room getting ready for the shift to turn over when the chaos began.
"I suddenly heard what sounded like a car door slamming," Kristopik said. "Almost simultaneously, one of the National Guard Airmen took off as two blasts shook the building."
Kristopik and Reeves realized it wasn't a car door at all.
"I was on the phone with my mom when we heard the first rocket hit," Reeves said. "I didn't want to alarm her, so instead of using the word 'rocket', I asked Kristopik 'Is that thunder?' hoping he would understand the reference."
Once they determined it was, in fact an attack, both Airmen followed protocol.
"I started to run for the bunker as did everyone else in the room," Kristopik said.
While running for the door, Kristopik heard more explosions and wished he had his Kevlar on. Once he was out of the building, another explosion sounded behind him and he was thrown to the ground. The 107mm rocket hit the air conditioning unit, which was located 10 feet from the shop door and about 15 feet behind Kristopik and Reeves.
"The force of the explosion slammed me to my hands and knees. It felt like I was tackled by a defensive lineman," Kristopik said. "While on my hands and knees, I noticed blood on the ground in front of me. The first thing that ran through my mind was that someone was hurt, and then realized that it was me that was bleeding. It looked as though I had been peppered with a shot gun."
Kristopik lost sight of Reeves and was worried because he heard him give out a yell.
"I took cover on the side of a storage container and yelled his name out three times, but did not get a reply," Kristopik said. "I was really worried about him. But with the shop covered in a dust cloud, and metal and hardware scattered everywhere, there was nothing I could do but get to the bunker, let everyone know that I was okay and then get help to search for Reeves."
The Airmen credit their military training for their reaction during the attack. Angelo says his "flight or fight" training kicked in and he knew what to do to survive.
"Had I never received that training I would have freaked out," Kristopik said. "I would have been more concerned about myself, as opposed to making sure everyone else was alright."
The Airmen recently received their Purple Hearts during a ceremony at D-M.