Watching Fox News this morning, I caught an interview with Army Captain Joshua Mantz (in the photo at left with Secretary Gates). Captain Mantz was patrolling in Bagdhad with the First Infantry Division on April 21, 2007, when he was hit by an armor-piercing bullet that killed Staff Sergeant Marlon Harper. Part of the same bullet that killed Sergeant Harper then exited, hit Captain Mantz and severed Mantz’s femoral artery. Captain Mantz bled out and went into a flatline condition for 15 minutes.
Here let me insert a footnote. Armor-piercing bullets arrived in Iraq from China courtesy of Iran. This is one more item in the very long account that the United States has yet to settle with Iran. It would be nice if the United States began to accord Iran the treatment it so richly deserves. You might say it’s time for Plan B. End of footnote.
What happened next to Captain Mantz is something like a miracle. Thom Shanker picks up the story in a New York Times At War blog post:
“I didn’t know that I was shot,” Captain Mantz said. “I was simply confused and knew that something was wrong. I experienced tunnel vision, as my attention immediately focused on the face of Staff Sergeant Marlon Harper. I looked into his eyes with crystal clarity and watched as his lifeless body fell to the ground. I experienced auditory distortion, in that I could hear nothing except for the muted shot of the sniper round, and hear my own voice call for my medic. I also experienced slow-motion time. I could feel my body absorb the shock of the round as it hit my body. I could feel myself moving backwards.”
Captain Mantz dragged Sergeant Harper out of the way and began to perform first aid on him while calling for assistance. “When my medic arrived, no more than 15 seconds later, I briefly passed out,” Captain Mantz said. “I regained consciousness when my men carried me into the nearest Bradley Fighting Vehicle and drove to FOB Loyalty,” the forward operating base that was their home in Baghdad.
During the 10-minute ride, the medic cinched-up a tourniquet and helped Captain Mantz stay conscious. “But I had to fight for every breath that I took,” Captain Mantz said.
The convoy was met by a team of Army medical personnel who within seconds were administering CPR and electronic defibrillation.
“But by this time I could feel myself starting to die, and I became desperate in my struggle to stay conscious,” he said. “We’re taught in Combat Lifesaver Training that the body will pull blood to the chest cavity during a catastrophic injury in order to protect the vital organs. I could actually feel this happening. It started with my legs. I could feel the blood creeping up from my legs to my chest cavity. When all the blood was gone, my legs locked-off. As the feeling crept up my body, it became harder and harder to breathe. The blood-creeping sensation moved to my quads, and they locked off. The feeling then crept to my stomach, and it locked-off. When the feeling moved to my stomach, it felt as if I was running wind sprints around a 400-meter track while breathing through a straw.
“I started to repeat three names in my head over and over again: My mom, my sister Melissa, and my sister Kendra. For the last 60 seconds of my life, I rapidly repeated these three names in my head. They helped me hold on a little longer and [I] knew I had to fight for them. But the feeling then crept to my chest, and I knew I was done. I calmly said my last thought, took my last breath, and died.”
There is one question Captain Mantz said he gets every time anyone hears his story: Did he see a tunnel of white light? The sound of angels? A gateway to the afterlife?
“I had no out-of-body experience,” he said. “Either that means it doesn’t exi[s]t or it means I need to change the way I am living.”
The medical team working on Captain Mantz did not quit. “I don’t know what possessed the brigade surgeon and his team to continue working on a dead guy for 15 straight minutes – many doctors will ‘call it’ after 6 minutes because that’s usually the point at which brain damage sets in – but they kept going,” Captain Mantz said.
When they restored a faint pulse, Captain Mantz was loaded onto a Black Hawk helicopter for a short flight into the Green Zone and more advanced emergency care. There, the military hospital team went through nearly 30 units of blood during a complicated vascular surgery. Blood was in short supply, and the medical team pulled soldiers into the surgery ward, drawing blood straight from their arms and putting it right into Captain Mantz. (He was ordered to take tests for a year to check for blood infections or disorders from the unprocessed transfusions, and he is fine.)
“Our military surgeons are gods in their profession,” he said. “With the proper resources, they can – and do – bring soldiers back to life against impossible odds.”
When he was stabilized, Captain Mantz was flown first to the larger military hospital at Balad, Iraq, north of Baghdad, and then to the military facility in Landstuhl, Germany, where it was determined that he had suffered no brain damage.
Shanker continues the story with Captain’s Mantz’s recuperation at Walter Reed and his return to service in Iraq with the same unit he was leading at the time of his injury.
On Fox News this morning, Captain Mantz discussed the mission he feels he was saved to perform. It is briefly mentioned in this Pratt Tribune account of Captain Mantz’s story. Captain Mantz seeks to help get assistance to soldiers struggling with the emotional and psychological aftereffects of battle and injury. No funding for centers devoted to helping soldiers with such issues has been provided to fill a recognized need. He wants to do something about it.
Shanker concludes his report with this view of Captain Mantz at Fort Riley alluding to his mission, also mentioned on Fox this morning:
Captain Mantz currently is assigned as aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. David C. Petersen, the deputy commanding general of the First Infantry Division at Fort Riley, and is expecting to return to Iraq as a company commander early next year. In the meantime, he has decided to tell his story as often as anyone will listen.
A few weeks ago, Fort Riley hosted a counseling session for spouses and parents of those killed in combat. Captain Mantz was approached by a mother whose son had been killed by a high-powered improvised explosive. She said the explosion had severed both of his legs at the waist, and she had been tormented wondering what her son, a hard-charging, type-A personality, had felt and thought in his last moments.
“The question that bothered her for the last three years was, ‘I wonder if my son lost the will to live because he knew his legs were gone and knew he couldn’t walk ever again. I wonder if he gave up.’ I was able to look her straight in the eye, and tell her that I used to think the same thing. I used to think that I’d rather die than lose a limb in combat. But as soon as I was shot, that thought went completely out of the window. I couldn’t have said to the doctor fast enough, ‘Take my leg! I’ll figure the rest out later!’ As I answered her question, I could see it in her eyes that I gave her a little bit of closure. And that was a question that only I could answer.”
While others ask him questions, there is one he asked himself: Why am I still here?
“I never thought I’d get an answer to that question until that mother walked up to me that day,” Captain Mantz said. “Your experiences are valuable in ways you may not realize yet. I strongly encourage you to talk about them. You’ll never know who you’re going to help.”
Here’s hoping word of Captain Mantz and his mission finds the wider audience it deserves.