By J.D. LeipoldApril 21, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 21, 2016) -- In the late afternoon of Oct. 4, 2012, combat engineer Staff Sgt. Thalamus Lewis and his fellow 41st Engineer Company Soldiers out of Fort Riley, Kansas, cautiously searched for hidden explosives on a stretch of rutty highway leading into an Afghan village.
As the team entered the village just before dusk, all hell broke loose with the familiar sound of AK-47s. The Soldiers scattered, taking cover. Before Lewis could hit the dirt intuitively, one of those enemy rounds did it for him, knocking his lights out as it pierced the right side of his helmet, grazing his forehead and exploding out and above his left eye, leaving frayed Kevlar.
What then-2nd Lt. Alexander Dillion saw was bad news: one of his guys was down and he couldn't get a medic to him. When the 10-minute firefight was over, Lewis -- who had been the point man -- sat up. Turns out he was lying low and had only been briefly unconscious.
With the exception of a "ringing in his ear and a slight headache" the only wound he suffered was a small cut on his forehead. He was in one piece and oblivious to the shambles his helmet was in. The following day he had a new ACH to replace the wrecked one which was on its way to be studied at the Army Research Lab in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
On April 20, during a town hall at a Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Lewis was presented with the helmet that in all likelihood saved his life by deflecting the bullet. Cut in two, the battered front half of his helmet had been mounted on a plaque and was given to him by Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings, program executive officer Soldier. PEO-Soldier manages virtually everything a Soldier carries onto the battlefield, from personal protection to meals-ready-to-eat and weaponry.
Following the presentation, Lewis, his parents, brother and Dillion took questions from reporters. With four deployments under his belt and seven months to go before calling the Army a career, Lewis said he was thankful to get his helmet back and grateful to the organizations that ensure Soldiers are fitted out with the best possible equipment.
Recounting the events that day, Lewis said he had no clue he'd been hit, only that it sounded like a grenade going off, a "flash-bang" where he was knocked over and fell into the middle of the road. Considering his situation and seeing rounds kicking up dust near him, he decided to play possum and wait for the mechanized units to roll up and provide cover so he could fall back.
Later on back at the base, the medics looked him over to make sure he had no other injuries and told him he'd taken a hit to his ACH. Being naturally curious, he told the medics he wanted to see the helmet.
"When I finally saw it and looked at it and it was all puffed out on one side… okay… hmmm… it actually works," he said. "Being a Soldier, we complain about a lot of stuff and this gear was one of my main things when we deployed… well, I don't complain about it anymore… I'm a walking testament."
In the short seconds before Lewis could answer about what he intended to do with his souvenir, his mother Cynthia Boggan jumped in.
"That belongs to me… I don't know what he thinks he's going to do with it, but that belongs to me," she laughed. "This is a blessing and lets anybody behind him ... appreciate and know that the Army does see after its Soldiers."