Soldier in Korea gets helmet that saved his life in Afghanistan
SEOUL, South Korea — The hit-and-run attack in an Afghan town left Staff Sgt. Ryan Frye with a concussion, a scratch on the left side of his head, and a helmet so dented he couldn’t fit his hand inside it when he finally realized he’d been hit.
But inexplicably, he was alive.
“The helmet wasn’t supposed to stop the round,” the combat engineer said. “I think I was just lucky.”
After the attack, Frye reluctantly handed over his helmet to the military for evaluation and was told he’d get it back in six to eight months. But the months stretched into years, and well into Frye’s next deployment, to South Korea, where he was stationed near the Demilitarized Zone with the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Last week, more than 2 1/2 years after the attack that took a fellow soldier’s life, Frye was given back his helmet, paint still chipped from the bullet, during a ceremony at Camp Hovey, courtesy of Program Executive Officer Soldier.
The group develops military equipment and studies battle-damaged gear, collecting more than 25,000 items since 2007, with an eye toward developing better protection. When possible, PEO Soldier returns items to troops as souvenirs.
“When I came to Korea, I was like, yeah, I’m not going to get it back,” the 25-year-old said. “Getting it back was great.”
Frye was taking part in a dismount operation on April 6, 2012, in Ghazni province, along with his squad leader and their gunner, Spc. Antonio Burnside. They were about halfway through the town of Mushaki when they stopped briefly behind a wall so Burnside could rest.
When they started moving again, they were assaulted by four Afghans as they crossed an open field. Their squad leader made it to safety, but Frye and Burnside were exposed.
Burnside, who was just 70 meters away from the enemy, was hit. With the squad leader providing support fire, Frye kept shooting.
Suddenly, he was dazed – a brief numbness followed by a deafening silence for about 30 seconds. When his hearing started to return, he could hear his squad leader radioing for help.
The attack was quick, maybe two minutes from start to finish, but it felt like an eternity. He thought about his wife and their unborn baby, and Burnside’s family – three children and one on the way.
As it turned out, Frye had been hit on the left side of his head. There was blood, but when he tried to reach inside his helmet, he couldn’t because the Kevlar had been pushed in so far.
Though the only visible wound was a scratch, Frye was dazed for hours. He believes he was hit by a 7.62 mm round from an AK-47. Kevlar helmets are designed to stop only the sort of 9 mm rounds typically fired by handguns and fragmentation from explosions.
“It looked like it went in, wrapped a little bit toward the back and popped out,” he said of the helmet.
For now, the helmet, mounted on a stand, is packed for shipment to his next assignment in Vicenza, Italy. He hopes to someday display it in his office.
But Frye said the best part of getting the equipment back is getting a chance to tell others about Burnside, who died from his injuries and never got to see his fourth child, who was named in his honor.
“It’s not about receiving a helmet. He can’t be here and I want people to remember what he did for his country,” he said. “I try to have everybody I talk to remember that it’s all about him.”
Frye’s daughter also was born after the shooting.
“Right when I got released from the hospital, they told me I was a father,” he said, adding that he wants her to eventually have the helmet.
“It was just really special to me. I want to pass it down to my family, the next generation. It gives them the sense that there’s a lot of fighting in the world, and you’ve got to keep going, and that I’m doing my part.”