By Pfc. Andrew Ingram, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs OfficeApril 30, 2010
FORT CARSON, Colo. -Cpl. Helen Ruhl, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was presented the Bronze Star Medal with Valor device for her exceptionally valorous actions while under enemy fire by Brig. Gen. James Pasquarette, deputy commanding general, support, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, during an awards ceremony at Pershing Field, April 21.
Ruhl, who was then a specialist and a combat medic, was returning to Forward Operating Base Fenty in eastern Afghanistan on the evening of Sept. 14, 2009, when her combat logistics patrol came under attack from small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
She said she only has hazy memories of the attack but reports from others have helped fill in the blanks.
Ruhl's M-1151 High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle was struck with an RPG, severely wounding the driver while rupturing Ruhl's eardrum, damaging her optic nerve and trapping her inside the vehicle.
Smoke clouding the truck's windows made it difficult for the Soldiers inside the Humvee to assess the situation.
Ruhl's shouts drew the attention of the vehicle's tactical commander, who freed her from the burning vehicle.
She said she tried to recover her aid bag, but it was burning with the vehicle, so she grabbed her combat lifesaver bag instead.
When Ruhl was clear of the wreckage, she extinguished the fire on her leg and maintained the presence of mind to alert the other Soldiers that the driver was still trapped inside the burning vehicle.
After the driver was removed from the vehicle, Ruhl quickly assessed his wounds.
"The only thing that was going through my head was his stepfather hugging me before we got on the plane to Afghanistan and saying, 'Please get my boy back to me,'" Ruhl said.
The driver had sustained serious damage to both legs and Ruhl determined he could not be moved.
Wounded, undersupplied and still in the kill zone, she applied a tourniquet to her injured comrade's left leg, while supervising the application of a second to his right.
"I had treated Soldiers before, but it is different when you know the person you are working on," Ruhl said. "This was somebody from my platoon; somebody I had congratulated when his kid was born."
When her battle buddy was finally stable enough to be moved, Ruhl laid down suppressive fire as her team evacuated the area.
Ruhl and her team were medically evacuated to Forward Operating Base Fortress and then to Asalabad, where they underwent more extensive medical evaluations. Ruhl was later medically evacuated from Afghanistan.
She spent several months in recovery at San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Huston.
Ruhl returned to the Mountain Post and is currently assigned to Company B, Fort Carson Warrior Transition Unit. Seven months after the attack, she has now been formally recognized for her cool head and decisive actions.
At the award ceremony, the 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div. rear detachment stood in formation to support Ruhl as she was honored for her valorous actions.
"I was looking at my calendar and this is, by far, the most important thing I will do this week," said Pasquarette. "I will meet with generals; I am meeting with the vice chief of staff of the Army tomorrow. But none of it compares to recognizing Cpl. Ruhl for what she did in combat as a part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team."
Ruhl said she was honored to receive the award but maintains that many Soldiers would have done the same thing.
"I just did my job," she said. "This is a horrible way to earn a great award."
Ruhl said she still struggles with the events of Sept. 14, but is convinced understanding what happened that day is helping her to make peace.
"I have to take everything one day at a time," said Ruhl. "Getting the paperwork for the Bronze Star with Valor helped because I got to see all of the sworn statements and they filled in some of the blank spots in my memory."
"Not knowing was much worse than knowing," she said. "Seeing everything on paper helped tremendously."
Ruhl said the events of that day have not dissuaded her from the calling to serve her fellow Soldiers in the medical field.
She is currently enrolled in college courses and hopes to earn her nursing degree and be commissioned as an officer.