An RPG took Josh Olson’s leg, but not sharpshooter’s spirit

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A cool, calm breeze washed over him.

Tires smoking, the lone Humvee tore into the compound. Bravo’s commander, Capt. Michael Jones, heard the screams for a medic over the engine as he worked the radio to direct reinforcements to the ambush. This must be bad. Olson stood out as one of his top two squad leaders, with a reputation for listening to both sides of a story and a personality that drew other soldiers like a magnet. The front seat of the Humvee looked to Jones as if someone gutted a pig there. Van Hook, a former member of Olson’s squad, couldn’t believe the amount of blood when he cleaned the Humvee the next morning.

In the tiny battalion aid station, not much bigger than its three litters, Dycus marveled that Olson was alive. The remnants of his right leg hung across his body like a doll’s snapped limb, plus a collapsed left lung and chunk out of his left leg amid a sea of shrapnel. Training didn’t cover how to handle an extremity wound this high. A compress didn’t staunch the flow of blood. Nothing remained to bind with a tourniquet. So, Dycus scrambled to tie off the severed femoral artery with a suture.

Pain attacked Olson as the medics cut off his uniform. His stomach felt turned inside out and twisted in a knot. As Dycus wrestled the artery, unable to slow the bleeding, a scene from “Black Hawk Down” where a Ranger with a leg wound bled out in Mogadishu, Somalia, pounded through Olson’s mind. He begged for something to dull the pain but had lost too much blood. Out of desperation, Dycus inflated a pair of military anti-shock trousers, a pneumatic device that balloons to cut off blood supply below the waist.

Blood seemed everywhere when Stewart entered the aid station. One look at the medics’ faces told him Olson, calm after learning his genitals were intact, wouldn’t survive.

“Does it hurt?” Stewart said.

“What do you think?” Olson said.

Stewart fought to keep composure, even as his buddy crowed about the deal he’d get on a prosthetic leg since his brother-in-law was a prosthetist in Iowa. The medics couldn’t believe he was cracking jokes.

“You know what to do,” Olson said.

“Yeah,” Stewart said, and pulled the letter from Olson’s pocket he never wanted his family to read.

Before Olson was hauled to an unsecured soccer field for the half-hour medevac helicopter flight to the 21st Combat Support Hospital in Mosul, Stewart delivered his final goodbye.

“I’ll marry your sister,” he said, continuing a long-running joke, “just so you know.”

“The [expletive] you are,” Olson said, and grinned.

In the minutes before sedation grabbed hold in Mosul, Olson tried to help the doctors and repeatedly apologized for being hurt.

Disoriented at Walter Reed

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