FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 13, 2019) - It was a crisp night in Qalat, Afghanistan, and my crew was in the midst of a 24-hour mission. Intel information indicated it would be a quiet evening. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

We'd worked throughout the day refueling all types of aircraft. Even though we'd had some downtime between missions, we knew to always be ready to refuel at a moment's notice. On this particular night, rockets were going off more than usual and everyone was nervous. Then, word came over the radio that three CH-47s needed fuel and would arrive in 15 minutes.

As my crew was preparing to head to the forward arming and refueling point site, I asked if they all had their personal protective equipment, including goggles, hearing protection and gloves. Everybody rushed to get their equipment. I, too, was scrambling to get my gear, so I did not physically check to see if everyone had their PPE.

There was a bad dust storm raging as five of us piled into a HMMWV and drove to the FARP site. When we arrived at the fuel tankers, I saw the first CH-47 arriving. As two of my Soldiers prepared a tanker hose to fuel the aircraft, I noticed one was not wearing goggles, just prescription glasses. I tried to yell out to the Soldier, but the aircraft drowned out my voice. I ran to the Soldier and gave him my goggles.

The dust storm continued to howl and, along with the aircraft, blow sand everywhere. I tried to protect my face by covering it with my shirt, but it didn't help. The wind was blowing so fierce that my eyes were full of sand.

By the time the final aircraft departed, my eyes were burning badly. My Soldiers poured water into my eyes, but it provided little relief. They rushed me back to the forward operating base and took me to the medic. By now, both of my eyes were swollen, so I was rushed to Kandahar by air and then sent to Germany for treatment.

It took me months to recover from this incident, but I came away from it with an important lesson learned: Always physically check your Soldiers to ensure they have all of their PPE. As a leader, you can never assume everyone will have it. I'm determined to prevent a similar accident from happening to my Soldiers, so before every mission, I make them show me their PPE. Sure, it might cost us a few extra minutes, but it might just save a Soldier's sight.

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