An Army Medic Deals with Casualties and Physical Danger during the War in Afghanistan

Soldiers in traditionally non-combat roles face issues with emotional stress and physical danger in war zones. In this segment, a medic from Iowa shares her story about her work in an Iowa National Guard unit in Afghanistan. Caution: Video includes some imagery and descriptions of injury and death caused by military conflicts.


Inside the wire, some soldiers experienced issues rivaling those endured outside the wire.  Sergeant Heather Eberly of Altoona served as a medic with the Iowa ADT.  Working primarily in the agricultural areas of Kunar province, she rarely treated soldiers wounded in combat.  But early one morning, that all changed.   

“Once they started coming in.  It didn't seem like it was ever going to stop and it was it was probably one of the saddest days I have ever seen.  To this day I still see the faces.  There is one young man, he was from Arizona, twenty years old, he came in with the first wave at 4 am and he ended up dying in transit. I think a lot of it has to do with he was still speaking. He was just living on adrenaline. And for some reason his face still haunts me.” 

In addition to emotional stress, Eberly also faced physical danger. The notion of being safe inside the wire proved to be an illusion, as the remote base was attacked sporadically with rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs. One assault ignited fuel in a supply depot and destroyed several vehicles.  Rather than seek shelter, Eberly reacted with what she characterizes as a typical Iowa response.

“…To this day we joke about it because it is kind of like a true Iowan when the tornado siren goes off.  What does every Iowan do? They go outside to see the storm. Same thing for incoming.”

One month prior to returning home, Eberly was riding in a convoy ambushed by Taliban forces when her vehicle was struck by an RPG. 

 “When we got to Jalalabad we looked at the truck and you know there is a big old hole in the side of our truck and there are bullet holes all over our truck”

In addition to personal safety issues, Eberly also was concerned about alarming family members back home.  Initially, she decided against keeping anything secret from her husband, Josh, who also serves in the Iowa National Guard.  But with each passing day she felt a greater need to insulate her loved ones from the details.  

“And when I came home I said, ok, and I showed him pictures.  This is what I was dealing with. Wow, you didn't tell me this stuff’ and I said well, no I didn't.  But I couldn't because I knew you'd worry and I did the same thing for my parents as well.”

Excerpt from "Iowa Soldiers Remember Afghanistan," Iowa PBS, 2011