Bullet-stopping helmet returned to Soldier at All-American Bowl
January 6, 2014
By Debi Dawson
SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 6, 2014) -- When former Army Spc. Chance Darby was reunited in San Antonio, Saturday, with the Advanced Combat Helmet that saved his life in Afghanistan, he said the headgear had successfully stopped an enemy rifle bullet, but left him with two big headaches.
One of those headaches lasted just a few days, a result of the impact of the high velocity round that hit his helmet. The other headache lasted several weeks, as he tried to keep the news he had been shot from his mother in San Angelo, Texas, and his fiancée who was attending Texas A&M University in College Station.
Darby had proposed to Cheryl shortly before he deployed to Afghanistan, with the 82nd Airborne Division. May 31, 2012, a month or two before his tour in Afghanistan would came to an end, Darby's unit was dismantling an improvised explosive device. It was then his platoon was ambushed by the Taliban.
"My gunner and I began laying down fire when I got hit," Darby said. "My squad sergeant, who had been directing our fire, also got hit in the head and went down."
Darby, a specialist at the time, shook off the hard blow and continued fighting. His squad sergeant was knocked unconscious for 10 to 15 seconds, then revived and rejoined the battle. The fighting lasted for an hour and a half before the enemy withdrew.
Darby did not want to tell his family about the incident, even though, thanks to the Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH, both he and his squad sergeant had survived essentially unharmed.
"I just didn't want them to worry," said Darby, who finished his enlistment and now works as a civilian in the oil industry.
His fiancée could sense something had happened, however.
"I could tell something sounded different. He called me and said the guys went out on patrol without him," said Cheryl, who has recently graduated from Texas A&M University. "I finally pried it out of him, because he got tired of me asking him."
His mother, Lynlee Darby, was the last to know her son had taken a bullet to the head.
"I only found out because the mother of one of his buddies over there called to tell me how glad she was for me, and how angels were looking out after Chance," Lynlee said. "I wondered what she was talking about, so I kept her talking until I got the whole story. Then I emailed him and said, 'Call me. NOW!'"
Darby, his wife, mother, sister, brother-in-law, and a collection of nieces and one nephew traveled to San Antonio for a short ceremony outside the Alamodome. The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is a football game played among high school all-stars was played at the stadium that day, and it was there the Army returned to Darby the ACH that had stopped a bullet from ending his life.
"Let me present a real American hero," said Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Maddi, as he presented Darby with the helmet, which was mounted on a polished wood display stand.
Maddi is the senior non-commissioned officer of Program Executive Office Soldier, the Army organization responsible for development and initial fielding of all the equipment worn or used by individual Soldiers, including helmets, body armor, uniforms, small arms, and night vision goggles.
Darby described the combat incident during which he was hit, and said his protective equipment made a believer out of him.
"Everybody used to say they hated wearing their helmets," he recalled with a smile. "But I love mine now. I would wear it anywhere."
"I love the Army equipment and how it protected Chance," said his wife, Cheryl. "I had seen pictures of his helmet, but it is different when you see it in person. When you see how close the bullet shot was, it takes my breath away."
The couple, who married one year after the helmet saved Darby's life, said they hope to build a house.
"This helmet is going to sit right there on the mantle," Darby said, as he held it in his hand. "You know, when my first sergeant told me I was going to get the helmet back, I figured it would just arrive in a box. I had no idea that PEO Soldier and the Army would hold this ceremony, or that they would put it on this display. That's awesome, and I am very thankful for it."
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