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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Mathiasen
Medic Springs into Action, After Attack
By Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
455th Air Expeditionary Wing
FORWARD OPERATING BASE TARIN KOWT, Afghanistan, Aug. 11, 2006 — When a suicide bomber slammed and ignited his missile-laden vehicle into the Humvee in front of Staff Sgt. Eric Mathiasen, the Air Force medic exploded into action.

He said he did not think about his wife or two children, or that there was unexploded ordnance lying about. He just grabbed his medical bag and sprinted toward the blast area.

"While I was running to the wounded guy, I just hoped I could help him," Mathiasen said. "I just hoped I wouldn't screw anything up."

He had questioned his abilities before this deployment to Afghanistan because he did not have much experience treating trauma patients. At his home base at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Mathiasen is an aeromedical services craftsman.

Although Mathiasen said he likes his job at Edwards, with two wars raging, he always felt he could do more. Twice before he volunteered to deploy, once outside his career field as a third-country national monitor. Although he returned from those deployments satisfied, he always felt there was something more.

Then, on the Air Force Personnel Center Web site, he saw a volunteer opportunity with the Provincial Reconstruction Team. He signed up.

"The Air Force doesn't normally deploy its people for a year, and I wanted to say that I've deployed for a year," said the native of Tehachapi, Calif. "I thought I needed to prove something to myself, I guess."

As a medic with a PRT, he also was excited about working "outside the wire."

When he volunteered, his wife supported his decision, despite the obvious danger.

"She knew how important this was for me," he said.

After weeks of training, he arrived here in April and knew he had found what he had been looking for -- a chance to see what he was made of.

Handwritten quotes on a white board in the PRT main office confirmed it.

One said: "Danger gleams like sunshine to a brave man's eye," Euripides, 412 B.C.

Another said: "God has fixed the time of death. I do not concern myself with that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me -- that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave," Stonewall Jackson, 1862.

One only has to walk outside to know there is an uncertain environment beyond the confines of the base. Army helicopters -- some heavily armed, lethal gun ships and some medevac birds whose job is to save lives -- constantly thump the air around this remote outpost. On the Fourth of July, airfield residents witnessed their own fireworks display when Operation Mountain Thrust brought the battle to the extremists in the foothills not far from here.

These PRT members do not drive thin-skinned vehicles. Instead, they deal with the threat by convoying everywhere in Humvees in order to do their mission of providing better security, economic stability and good governance in this region. They do this by convoying to schools, government

Staff Sgt. Eric Mathiasen checks his gear during an unexpected down day after the team's scheduled convoy was cancelled due to enemy activity in the local area. Mathiasen is a medic with the Tarin Kowt Provincial Reconstruction Team. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.

offices and police stations.

Although he had been with the team for a month, at the time he still felt he was waiting for something. That is, until the vehicle-borne IED exploded May 1.

Mathiasen was riding in a Humvee in the middle of the convoy when a suicide bomber in a car crashed into the vehicle directly ahead of him, detonating a cache of missile heads. The explosion ripped all the limbs from the extremist, but it didn't kill anybody in the Humvee.

As trained, Mathiasen jumped out of his vehicle to help provide security, but when he heard screams of "Medic!" "Medic!" he grabbed his medical bag and ran toward the blast area.

He avoided the unexploded ordnance that littered the road.

After determining that the soldier in the damaged Humvee had not sustained life-threatening wounds, Mathiasen turned his attention to a young child injured by the blast.

The medic cut the clothes from the boy and couldn't feel a pulse. All his wounds were internal. Because the boy didn't have a pulse, Mathiasen couldn't insert a much-needed IV.

If the little boy didn't receive immediate medical attention he certainly would die right there. An Afghan ambulance took the child to a nearby Afghan hospital.

Meanwhile, Mathiasen returned to treating his teammate.

"He was quite apprehensive about his condition and his brush with death, so I didn't want to do any more to him than needed to be done," Mathiasen later wrote in a report. "I flushed his eyes to clear them of debris, and poured some water over his hands that suffered second-degree burns. He declined pain medication, so I worked to keep him calm and provide security at the same time."

The soldier eventually made it to a military hospital for treatment. Mathiasen later learned that doctors tried to revive the boy by hand-massaging his heart, but to no avail.

After that dreadful incident, the medic felt he had bonded even more deeply with the team. He felt the team trusted him more, probably because he now trusted himself. He proved to himself that he could perform his job under the most stressful life-and-death conditions.

And, now that he feels he is part of the team, he feels the paternal need to protect them, like they protect him.

"I know these guys. They have kids and wives and mothers and fathers waiting for them at home," he said. "If I can, in some small part, contribute in their making it back home, then that's why I'm here."

Last Updated:
08/11/2006, Eastern Daylight Time
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