Today Capt. David Burrier is a Louisville District project manager working at the Olmsted office. Two years ago, Burrier was gently prodding the roads in Afghanistan with a hatchet, on a search for the deadliest weapon facing U.S. troops—the Improvised Explosive Device.
On April 13, Louisville District Commander Col. Luke Leonard presented Burrier with the Purple Heart for injuries he suffered in Afghanistan.
Burrier and his unit, 2nd Platoon, 264th Engineer Clearance Company, 20th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Brag, N.C., deployed to Afghanistan in December 2009. Burrier and his platoon’s mission: Locate and eliminate IED threats along the route so that other Soldiers and their vehicles could maneuver over the road with less of a threat. The Army does have mine detecting equipment on some of its vehicles, but Burrier said the dismounted patrol was often more effective. Squads of Soldiers would walk on each side of the road looking for IEDs and the wires that run from the bomb to the detonating device, usually held by somebody out of sight. Burrier and one of his squad leaders walked in the road poking the ground for pressure plates, another device used to set off IEDs.
“For me, I didn’t really think about it, I just knew that if I hit this it’s just me. If a vehicle hits it, it’s probably eight young Soldiers, so that’s what mainly enabled me to do it, knowing that I had the possibility of saving eight young Soldiers, whether I found it without detonating it, or it detonated by itself,” Burrier said.
On two consecutive days in April 2010, Burrier and his platoon were hit with two IEDs. The first, a 150-pound round, exploded 10 meters from him. Luckily, Burrier only suffered a concussion. A 107 mm rocket awaited him the next day, with a different outcome.
The rocket was buried in a mud wall, which commonly separates living areas, much like a fence. Burrier was about 10 feet from the wall, his squad leader was about five, when the triggerman sent a burst of electricity from the detonator, through the hidden wires and into the rocket embedded chest high into the wall.
“It blew shrapnel and rocks from the wall,” Burrier said. “I got a piece of shrapnel in my left forearm and a severe concussion. I don’t remember a lot of it.”
A camera mounted on a humvee captured everything.
“All you can see is me and my squad leader standing in a road that’s covered in smoke and dust,” he said. “You can see us running toward the vehicles and there is a good five minutes there where I don’t recall a single thing that happened.”
Burrier explained he and his squad leader instinctively ran to the vehicle, but they were still deep in the concussion’s fog.
“The video just shows me walking around in a daze,” he recalled. “I actually attempted to walk back in the area, but my platoon sergeant saw me disoriented and actually grabbed me by my (armor) plate carrier and chucked me up against the wall and said, ‘Sit down and wait for the medic.’”
Nobody in second platoon was killed that day. Six other Soldiers were injured in the blast. Burrier’s squad leader, the closest Soldier to the blast, suffered the most severe injuries. An entire side of his body was peppered with shrapnel and rocks.
Despite their injuries, Burrier and 10 other Soldiers from the platoon kept clearing the road for another kilometer, a point where they received basic medical aid. After an hour, the platoon headed back to their Forward Operating Base (FOB), over the same road. It was an “up and back mission,” over a distance they’d just cleared, but the enemy is known to plant IEDs for these return trips.
“We had to clear our way back, and we found another one,” Burrier said.
Once back at the FOB, the injured received more thorough medical check-ups. Burrier gave a report of the day’s events to his commander then called his wife, Hunter, and told her what happened.
“She was upset and cried, but I told her don’t worry, that I’m still the same husband now, and I’ll be the same husband when I get back,” he said.
After the call, he went and checked on the other guys then played a game of spades. Second platoon took the next day off to recover, but it was just one. There were more roads, and there were more IEDs.