MUSA QA’LEH DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- When the Marines reached the hilltop, they knew it was going to be a rough day.
They had already taken fire, and they were patrolling in an area that coalition forces had rarely been since the decade-long war began.
At the top of the hill, the Marines took fire from insurgents when one of their brothers was wounded.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Eduardo D. Estrada, corpsman, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, along with two other corpsmen, helped save the life of 1st Lt. Michael Rhoads, a forward observer, who was shot in the torso, April 15.
The Marine was wounded during Operation Lariat, a mission to cut off insurgent supply routes. The Marines were going to investigate suspicious compounds, but started taking fire when they got near the village.
“Right before they called ‘corpsman up,’ the insurgents started walking shots on us, and they started impacting about three feet from us,” said Estrada, 24, from Tucson, Ariz. “At the time, I was thinking ‘I really want to get out of here’.”
Rhoads, who was hit by a bullet ricochet in the shoulder, was under the treatment of two other corpsmen when Estrada reached him. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan K. Bracey and Petty Officer 2nd Class Shan Datugan were the first on the scene.
“When they called for the corpsman, I was right there, and we pulled him off the line,” said Bracey, 24, From Athens, Texas. “He was in shock already. When I saw the entrance wound, I applied an occlusive dressing (an air-tight bandage) and another one to the exit wound on his back.”
The corpsmen applied the bandages with the relentless crack of rounds overhead.
After applying an airtight bandage to Rhoads’ damaged chest cavity, the three corpsmen saw his vital signs drop and knew there was more work to do.
“In the second assessment, we saw his skin was pale, cool and clammy,” said Estrada. “We stuck him with a needle once, and a small amount of blood came out. That was when we knew he had a hemopneumothorax.”
Still under enemy fire, the corpsmen needed to empty Rhoads’ chest cavity. Blood and air leaked out of Rhoads’ lungs and into his chest, taking up the space his lungs needed to fill with air. They stuck him a second time hoping to cure his hemopneumothorax. They got the same result.
“Then I went ahead and did it a third time,” said Estrada. “His vitals went up, including his pulse and breathing rate.”
It was a short wait for the medical evacuation helicopter to take Rhoads to safety and a higher level treatment center.
“At that point I was trying to coach him, keep him calm as possible. We asked him questions such as who the president was, and he got all of them right.”
Rhoads survived and is now recovering in Southern California.
“Once we got him to the bird, I knew he would make it,” said Estrada. “We had done everything we could do, and we rendered the appropriate treatment for his wounds.”
Rhoads is thankful for the corpsmen who helped save his life.
“It’s nice to know I helped save his life,” said Estrada. “He called and thanked all the corpsmen.”