Mechanic relies on training to save fellow paratrooper
Sgt. James Hayes, a mechanic with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, stands in front of a Heavy Equipment Mobility Tactical Truck wrecker that he uses to recover vehicles for 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, April 30, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Hayes and his team used a wrecker to lift a damaged vehicle off a fellow paratrooper a year ago in Afghanistan, saving the paratrooper's life.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Sgt. James Hayes has one piece of advice for soon-to-deploy mechanics: take your training seriously.

Hayes, a mechanic who deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan in 2012, said that the first time he had to rely on his training to righten a flipped armored vehicle, everything worked exactly as he had trained.

At stake was the life of fellow paratrooper, Spc. Justin Lansford, a turret gunner who was pinned under the roof of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle after it was hit and flipped by an improvised explosive device.

Lansford was critically wounded and bleeding from both femoral arteries.

"I remember thinking it was going to turn bad quick if I didn't do it right," said Hayes, a freckle-faced former German citizen and son of an American soldier.

When Hayes, Cpl. Joshua Dobson and two other mechanics arrived at the attack site, medics were treating Lansford, and the damaged vehicle was on fire, said Hayes.

After extinguishing the fire, the mechanics determined the correct lifting points and amount of winch force to apply based on the vehicle weight, and gently lifted the wreckage high enough to extricate the pinned paratrooper.

"I can't even explain to you how rewarding that feeling was," said Hayes.

Lansford was airlifted from the battlefield, eventually recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Although he lost both legs above the knee, he was glad to be alive, he said.

During Hayes' six-month deployment, he and his team recovered 15-20 vehicles. Most were for mechanical failures or driver inexperience, or a combination of the two, he said.

On one convoy, three vehicles were struck by IED within seconds of each other, including Hayes' wrecker. Though neither he nor Dobson was injured, soldiers in both of the other two vehicles were medically evacuated by helicopter.

The wrecker had been towing a damaged vehicle when it was hit, so mechanics used a larger truck to tow both vehicles in-line, he said. The train of towed vehicles looked odd, but it sufficed to extricate them from the battlefield.

"The training really works," he said.

Page last updated Tue April 30th, 2013 at 00:00