But Derek didn’t have a foot.

I guess he didn’t know, or it wasn’t quite all off yet. But he tried, and he ended up collapsing.

The other squad members got me out, and I remember them tying tourniquets on both my legs. I thought my legs were melting off because it felt like fire—but it was just all the blood rolling down. They got me on a stretcher, and they put Derek and me into [a vehicle]. And I found this out later—but Brandon was in there with us, too [crying]. I had my eyes closed because my eyelashes had fused shut from the heat, and I don’t think I felt pain anymore. I just wanted to go to sleep.

The next thing I remember we were at the gate of the FOB, and the FOB was under attack. I remember the guys screamin’, “Open the bleep bleep gate!”

I technically bled out and was dead when I arrived at the hospital. They were just trying to stabilize me until they flew us out to the Green Zone. They put me in a drug-induced coma, and I woke up the next afternoon. I remember opening my eyes, and there was a nurse standing right to my left, and the first thing I asked her was ‘Which one?’ because I knew one or both my legs were gone. And if she’d told me neither of them it would have been a great day but … I was just more focused on seeing Derek. They told me he was in the other room, and I demanded that they take me to him, and we held hands, and we fell asleep together holding hands.

I want to say that my experiences from the hospitals where I was up until Walter Reed—Walter Reed, that’s another conversation—were some of the most fantastic people. I mean it’s a constant flow of bodies coming in there. And [the staff] doesn’t stop. They don’t stop. It’s absolutely amazing.

In the military you have your own email, and I got on it when I got home, and I come across this message: You don’t remember me but I know you. And I open it, and he’s like we were the ones who saved your life, and it was like all five of them standing there [crying]. It was so cool that they took a second out of their day to email me.

You and Brandon were very close.

Yeah. I’ve met Brandon’s sister Stephanie, most of his family, met his wife—they were going to be celebrating their second wedding anniversary that May. Stephanie is stationed out of Fort Meade. Her and I are like inseparable. Yes, there’s been a lot of good that has come out of something bloody awful.

What else is good?

Wow. Yeah. That’s a good one. I guess I can say the fact that I’m still here. But there’s that guilt that eats me up. Why him and not me? Why Derek? You know, all of it. What if we did not take that glass out of our vehicle?

So you think it would have saved Brandon and maybe prevented some of your injuries?

Absolutely. I heard that a copper slug hit Brandon in the neck. The concussion of the explosion blew the doors off. So yeah, maybe he would have still exited the vehicle but he would have not had a couple slugs in his neck. I might not have all the damage and shrapnel. I can’t believe they would even let us out like that. I hate the what ifs. That will haunt me for the rest of my life.

[Crying] It’s just been so hard because I’ve done a lot of this by myself.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowsk