DAY WE LOST OUR MATE SEAN
On the battlefield, there’s a very fine line between life and death
THE worst day for a Voodoo Medic is the one when a soldier dies. July 8, 2008 was one of those days.
Signaller Sean McCarthy, 25, was just two weeks into his second deployment to Afghanistan when his patrol vehicle rolled over a 20-kilo explosive hidden in the road. The blast critically wounded him, blew off the leg of an Afghan interpreter and injured two other troopers.
Sergeant John Walter was the patrol’s combat medic, known to the troops by the call sign “Kilo” and one of an
elite band of soldiers whose stories are being revealed in NThewe sDaCiolyrpT’selseegriaepsh’Vsosoedrioeos
MVoeoddicoso. Medics. Walter was with the SAS Regiment’s 3 Squadron on McCarthy’s patrol as it moved through a small culvert in the Chora Valley — a known hotbed of insurgent activity — about 12 kilometres northeast of the Australians’ Tarin Kowt base.
The sound of the blast was unmistakeable.
“IEDs are unique, it’s a very deep explosion,” Walter said, using a short form for an improvised explosive device – a homemade bomb.
“Metal, tin and rubber muffle it, which is normally the vehicle that struck it.”
As soon as he heard it, Walter knew there would be carnage.
He ran to the ripped-apart vehicle, where troopers had already applied tourniquets to McCarthy and the interpreter to try to stop their bleeding.
The signaller’s injuries were severe, so Walter concentrated on procedures that would keep McCarthy alive long enough for him to reach hospital.
“Ultimately, Sean needed surgery — that was the reality,” he said.
Walter reapplied McCarthy’s tourniquets, inserted a plastic tube into his trachea to try to get him breathing
again, and at one point thrust a needle into McCarthy’s chest to release air built up inside his thoracic cavity. Combat medics strive to get casualties to hospital within the “golden hour” — the time someone with a lifethreatening injury has to get advanced treatment for the best chance of survival. In war zones, Kilos take it a step further — aiming to provide treatment within the “platinum 10” minutes it can take a wounded soldier to “bleed out” and die. Walter worked on Mc-
Carthy for about 90 minutes before a medical evacuation helicopter arrived.
“Sixty minutes is a long time; 90 minutes is a very long time,” Walter said.
In the end, McCarthy died from his wounds and his body was later repatriated (left).
His death illustrates how extraordinarily hard the medics work to save a life — and how even that is sometimes not enough.
“It didn’t help that there was a delayed evacuation time that day, however I believe — for what it’s worth — that his injuries were beyond any human being to deal with and stay alive,” Walter said.
“This was the first and luckily the last time that I’d lost an Australian soldier at my hands.”
He said it was “probably the most traumatic day for me”.
Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Mark Donaldson, who was on the ground with McCarthy and Walter that day, said a medic’s presence on the battlefield was often the difference between life and death.
Signaller Sean McCarthy (left) was mortally wounded by a hidden bomb in Afghanistan Medic Sgt John Walter (far left) fought for 90 minutes on the battlefield to keep him alive Picture: Gary Ramage