Four Airmen, four explosions, one mission

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Four explosive ordnance disposal airmen serving the 325th Fighter Wing together received life-threatening injuries during deployments separately.

"We all received them from being blown up by improvised explosive devices," said Master Sgt. Jason Heise, 325th Fighter Wing explosive ordnance disposal technician. "We were not all together, so everyone has a different story."

Heise, along with Senior Master Sgt. Dustin Prowell, 325th Fighter Wing EOD superintendant; Tech. Sgt. Joseph Gutshall, 325th FW EOD technician; and Staff Sgt. Guadalupe Corona, 325th FW EOD journeyman found themselves in the same career, wearing the same medal for receiving injuries in the line of duty.

"The Purple Heart is awarded to service members that have been injured in a direct action of enemy forces," Corona said.

Heise was in Afghanistan when he sustained his injuries.

"For me, our truck got blown up, and I got a concussion from that," Heise said. "Then, two weeks later, we got caught in an IED ambush scenario. While doing a post-blast, a Marine stepped on an IED about three feet from me. He lost his legs and I was thrown in to the original blast hole. I've had surgeries on both ankles, shoulder and neck, and traumatic brain injury."

Gutshall was injured while driving in Afghanistan. An explosion caused him to sustain a broken heel, broken ankle, broken wrist and traumatic brain injury. While these injuries would slow most people down, Gutshall remained motivated to continue the mission.

"Men on my team need me, and America needs us," Gutshall said.

Six months after sustaining his injuries, Gutshall returned to Afghanistan and joined together with Corona,then a Senior Airman), who received injuries that earned him a Purple Heart as well.

"I was his team leader," Gutshall said. "During that operation, 14 personnel were injured with one killed in action. Senior Airman Corona's actions after getting blown up prevented those numbers from being much higher. Field medical care that myself and [another Airman on his team] provided would have been worth nothing if Airman Corona had not gotten us a medical evacuation when he did. At least two more of our critically wounded would have lost their lives without Airman Corona's help."

Corona was injured while performing combat life-saving operations on two Marines. They were critically injured by an IED blast while clearing a building. One Marine had fragmentation damage with multiple lacerations and the other lost both legs and an arm. Corona's team was the first on the scene, and immediately began performing combat life-saving operations on them. Corona eventually had to retreat to another room to call for a MEDEVAC. While Corona was relaying information to the MEDEVAC team, another Marine detonated an IED nearby.

"Unfortunately, he was killed instantly, and I was thrown and bounced off a wall several feet away and knocked unconscious," Corona said. "When I came to, I had been pulled from the building, and had several scrapes and bruises, a massive headache and had caught some fragmentation along my right side. After regaining my composure, I regained communications with the MEDEVAC and aided my team in clearing the rest of the building and getting everyone out to the landing zone for the inbound helicopter. I ended up joining the wounded on that flight out and was MEDEVACed to Khandahar."

Corona sustained minor tissue damage, multiple small lacerations resulting from fragmentation and TBI, yet he considers himself lucky.

"I was very lucky," he said. "It could have very easily gone much worse for me. There are plenty of EOD techs, as well as other members of the Armed Forces in general, who have sustained worse injuries and still recovered. If they can overcome losing one or more limbs, then I can definitely get over a few scratches and a headache."

Prowell is also a member of the 325th EOD team, and was also awarded the Purple Heart after surviving an IED blast. He is currently deployed, and continues to support the mission of the 325th FW.

These Airmen may seem like super heroes, but they certainly don't see themselves as such.

"We do our jobs, and we do them well," Corona said. "Some of us are faced with situations where we are pushed beyond our normal limits and are put in extraordinary circumstances. Fortunately, we have some great training, and we can just let that training kick in and get the job done."

All four Airmen continue to support the EOD mission here at Tyndall, and that mission was summed up quite simply by Gutshall, "stop bad things from blowing up, then blow them up safely."