DAY WE LOST OUR MATE SEAN

On the bat­tle­field, there’s a very fine line be­tween life and death

South Burnett Times - - NEWS - KRISTIN SHORTE N

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 News The Daily Corp’s Tele­graph’s se­ries Voodoo se­ries Medics. Voodoo 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. Wa lter 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.

Pic­ture: Gary Ra­m­age

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

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