By Debi Dawson, PEO SoldierOctober 31, 2014
CAMP HOVEY, South Korea (Oct. 31, 2014) -- A Soldier's Advanced Combat Helmet proved itself a lifesaver two years ago when enemy fighters unleashed a hail of automatic weapons fire on his unit.
The ACH turned away a bullet that hit Staff Sgt. Ryan Frye square on the side of his head, days before the birth of his daughter.
A ceremony reunited Frye with his life-saving helmet Oct. 30 here at Camp Hovey. He is a combat engineer with 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Team, 2nd Infantry Division. He received the helmet in front of the entire battalion.
Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Maddi presented Frye with the plaque-mounted ACH on behalf of Program Executive Office Soldier.
"Combat engineers have done the heavy lifting of the war; they are always at risk," Maddi said. "The fact that Staff Sgt. Frye and his teammates defeated the enemy that day is an indicator of their skills and abilities.
"Combat is dangerous, even for the best-trained and best-equipped Soldiers," Maddi said. "In this same action, Spc. Antonio 'Tony' C. Burnside -- whose Blackfeet traditional family name is 'Many Hides' -- was fatally wounded. We must remember the sacrifice paid by this 31-year-old from Great Falls, Montana."
Based out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, PEO Soldier is responsible for the development and fielding of the uniforms, boots, small arms, night vision, protective equipment and other gear carried by Soldiers.
"Our job at PEO Soldier is to work closely with the best defense industry in the world to supply Soldiers equipment that enhances their performance on the battlefield," Maddi said.
"Every military, civilian or contractor member of our team works hard with those in industry to achieve this goal. So when they learn that some of the equipment they helped develop has saved the life of a Soldier, they are grateful they were able to do their part," he said.
Frye and two other Soldiers were on a dismounted route clearance operation at 3 p.m., April 6, 2012, in the village of Mushaki, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.
Five enemy fighters rounded the corner of a wall and opened fire. Burnside suffered fatal wounds. Frye took a bullet to the side of his helmet from a distance of less than 100 meters.
"I was hit on the left side of my helmet as I was returning fire," said Frye, who wasn't initially aware he had been hit. "I went deaf instantly and couldn't hear anything. Laying in the prone, I could feel that my helmet was frayed and couldn't reach up under my helmet."
The shot would have been deadly but only left Frye with abrasions because his ACH deflected the 7.62 mm round.
"I have waited two years to get my helmet back," Frye said. "I never thought I would see my helmet again.
"I completely forgot about the damage it (the enemy bullet) did to my helmet. But when I saw it, I could see that the round bullet went into and out of the helmet," said an emotional Frye after receiving the helmet.
"This helmet will always be in my home," Frye said. "I am going to pass it down. This will really help me talk to my daughter when she turns 18 or 21 that the world is not a good place; that you have to be a better person."
His daughter was born just a few days after the incident.
While the physical wounds Frye suffered from the shot were minor, the toll from seeing his friend killed in combat was more serious. He credits his family, as well as fellow Soldiers, with his recovery.
"My family was the biggest part of it," he said. "All I thought about when I got hit was my family and how much I wanted to get back with them. After we got back from deployment, I saw my baby girl for the first time. My lovely wife walked me through the steps.
"She had bad days and I had some bad days sometimes. We helped each other through," Frye added.
Likewise, his fellow Soldiers in Korea played what he said was an unexpectedly positive role.
"When I got my Korean orders, I was devastated because I didn't want to get separated from my family," said Frye of the unaccompanied assignment. "When I landed (in Korea), I felt overwhelmed, but my platoon sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Moran) came into the unit the same day I did. He was very supportive."
Frye said they look out for one another. "Everywhere we go or what we do, our motto is 'the Pain Train wins.' We build each other up," he said.
That positive reinforcement made a big impact.
"It will be sad to leave this group. A month ago, I found myself thinking I don't want to leave this group. I don't know if there is another platoon this good," Frye said.
"Staff Sgt. Frye supported the rest of us equally," Moran said. "He's one of a kind. Things have happened to him, but you would never know it. He is the best NCO we have."
Frye said he is glad PEO Soldier was able to return his ACH.
"It saved my life, and I thank it so much," he said.
After the battle-damaged ACH came back to PEO Soldier for technical evaluation, the Army tried to issue Frye a different model helmet. He refused. "I said I wanted this same model," he said.
"When one of my Soldiers complains about the weight of wearing this helmet and says, 'Come on, we are just training,' I tell them my story, and that I was glad I was wearing mine," Frye said. "Then I walk away, and I have made my point."