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By Richard Essary
Civ USAF AFMC 

EOD Airman receives Purple Heart from Afghanistan deployment

 

U.S. Air Force photo/Alex R.Lloyd

Tech. Sgt. Devin L. Datus, 775th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, reflects as Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, Air Force Materiel Command commander, applauds him after presenting him with the Purple Heart during a ceremony she officiated April 18. Datus was injured by an improvised explosive device while conducting route clearance operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in July 2010. Datus is a native of Pine Bluffs.

Hill Air Force Base, UTAH — An Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician supporting dangerous route clearance operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, was awarded the Purple Heart during a ceremony here today. Tech. Sgt. Devin L. Datus, 775th Civil Engineer Squadron, was presented the award by Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, Air Force Materiel Command commander.

“I am honored to be recognized along with so many other individuals throughout the years that have paid the price to receive this prestigious award,” said Datus. “All who have been awarded the Purple Heart have one thing in common; they have shown that they are willing to sacrifice all they hold dear in support of their fellow military members and their nation.”

On July 18, 2010, Datus was deployed with the 755th Air Expeditionary Squadron and was a part of a convoy operation that had been directed to clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from a roadway between Camp Leatherneck and Forward Operating Base Nolay. This was the first in-theater operation for Datus, a native of Pine Bluffs, Wyo.

It was day 10 of the convoy operation, which had already experienced multiple IED strikes, when two vehicles in Datus’ convoy were hit by IEDs and seriously injured the vehicle’s occupants. Immediately, Datus and his EOD team leader, Tech. Sgt. Paul Horton, began clearing a 100-meter wide landing zone for a medevac helicopter to rescue the injured members.

Datus said it took nearly 30 minutes to clear the landing zone. After the evacuation, Datus and the other members of the convoy remained at the site to continue recovery operations, but due to nightfall weren’t able to do so until the next morning.

Early the next day, the team systematically began searching again for IEDs and marking them for detonation.

While Datus and Senior Airman Christopher Lacy, another EOD technician, were working on post-blast analysis by collecting evidence to determine the size of the IED detonations the day before, a member of their route clearance team, Army Corporal Paul Miller, accidentally strayed outside the clearance area and triggered an IED that killed him.

Datus and Lacy, who were nearby when the explosion occurred, were hit by the blast. The explosion was so strong that it knocked Datus unconscious and shattered the ceramic ballistic plate on the back of his body armor.

When he regained consciousness, Datus and his team members examined each other to ensure they didn’t have any life threatening wounds from the explosion. Despite exhaustion and symptoms associated with being knocked unconscious, Datus continued working with the team to clear another landing zone to have Miller flown back to base by helicopter.

During clearing operations for the second landing zone, another IED was discovered and disabled by Datus, who used a robot to place a counter charge to safely detonate the IED.

Datus said it was nearly six hours from the time of the blast until he could be evaluated by the on-site medic. The medic determined he had suffered a concussion and loss of hearing from the explosion.

For the next two days the team continued working to clear the area, but decided to cease operations after determining the area was infested with IEDs.

On July 21 and nearly out of food and water, recovery assets were called to take the route clearance team back to Camp Leatherneck. In total, nine IEDs were found, nine vehicles rendered disabled during the entire operation, and one member of their route clearance team was killed.

Datus still continues to have symptoms from the experience, but is left with a sense of pride.

He said his “recollection of the time before and after the blast is very limited.”

“Working with my fellow EOD technicians gives me a sense of pride, and my team during the deployment was no different,” Datus said. “The professionalism, technical prowess, and determination of our group still amaze me to this day.”

 

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