Big Foot graduate receives recognition for heroic effort
Ackley helps Afghanistan woman who was shot by insurgents
July 27, 2011 | 08:03 AMKhowst Province, Afghanistan — If it wasn't for the fast thinking of an army medic and a 2001 Big Foot High School graduate, an Afghanistan woman who was caught in the middle of a fire fight between insurgents and U.S. forces might be dead.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chris Ackley, a Sharon native, helped provide medical care on July 6 to the 36-year-old Afghanistan woman who suffered from a gunshot wound to her chest.
"I feel like I was doing my job, and if it were to happen again, I would not change a thing," Ackley wrote in a July 21 e-mail. "I'm thankful for everyone who took time to show their appreciation, but I was just doing my job."
On the day of the shooting, Ackley was part of a team — which included soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and Task Force Duke — that was attending a high school graduation in the Sabri District. The plan was for the unit to speak with the school's headmaster, parents and local elders about security and a recent shura — a method of selecting leaders and making major decisions.
However, during the conversation, the military vehicles came under attack by insurgents.
As the soldiers made their way back to the vehicles, they entered an open area and were fired at by small arms. After a 10-minute fire fight, in which no U.S. soldiers were injured, they received a report of an insurgent-injured civilian.
A medic ran to the woman, and Ackley assisted him in providing care.
"I really don't remember what went through my mind. At first, I know I said to myself, 'Wow that's a gun shot wound,' and my EMT and my army medic skills just kicked in," Ackley said. "The lady was really calm and so was the medic that I was helping, I guess I was calm as well because I was chewing gum and I was blowing bubbles as we were treating her."
As her lung began to fill with fluid, the duo put a chest seal on the wound, performed a needle decompression and started administering fluids. Ackley and the medic monitored her vital signs, rolled her onto her side for easier breathing and called for a medical transport.
The Afghanistan villagers initially resisted the idea of the woman being medically airlifted. However, once they realized she needed surgery to live, and that a family member could go with her, the villagers allowed it. Coalition forces medevaced the patient to Forward Operating Base Salerno for further treatment.
It was between 3 and 4 p.m. at the time of the shootings and the temperature was in the mid 90s with close to 85 percent humidity, Ackley wrote. He also was wearing full combat gear — which includes between 85 and 90 pounds of body armor — and had been on patrol all day.
"This was only my fourth mission out of Afghanistan so I was not 100 percent used to the heat, wearing all my body armor and having to run from place to place," Ackley said.
Considering the situation, Ackley said the civilians who were around him as he worked were calm and allowed Ackley and the army medic to do their jobs.
"The atmosphere was not bad, (as if there is ever going to be a great atmosphere when you our out on a patrol and you just got in a fire fight and a civilian gets wounded) everyone was calm and we both worked at a fast pace to make sure she was getting the best care possible," Ackley wrote. "It was a female so the medic and I were both trying to be very respectful to her and her family."
"We tried to keep her covered up as best as we could and tried to make sure the family stayed calm and understood that what we were doing was saving her life, and that a helicopter would be coming to take her to a good hospital."
As he was providing care to the woman, he wasn't sure whether she was going to survive.
"But I know the medic and I gave her a much better chance and got her to a hospital much faster than if we were not there," he said.
The medic and Ackley's heroic actions were captured on video, and, when the duo had a chance to review the scene, they realized how well they worked together.
"It was like we'd been working together for 10 years" Ackley said. "He (the medic) said I played the perfect noncommissioned officer role."
For his actions, Ackley received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal in a small ceremony July 12 with Provincial Reconstruction Team.
"I am pleased with Staff Sgt. Ackley's actions in aiding the injured Afghan woman," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Brad Brewer, Khowst PRT commander from Fort Recovery, Ohio, who presided over the ceremony. ""He fell back on his training and saved her life. I am honored to have the opportunity to recognize his truly heroic act."
Ackley's training as an emergency medical technician with the Beaver Dam Fire and Rescue Department and Army medic allowed him to stay calm and provide the aid needed for his first gunshot wound victim.
When Ackley was asked if there was anything else he would like to add he wrote that he misses his wife, Lisa, and his mom and dad.
"I can't wait to see you guys when I come home on leave, and I wish I could get to see everyone this summer at our 10 year high school reunion. Have a drink for me class of 2001.
Information for this article was contributed by U.S. Air Force Capt. David Tomiyama Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs. The Regional News also contacted Ackley via e-mail for additional comments.