Face of Defense
Hero Corpsman Reunites With Afghan Soldier
When Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Stanley Maculewicz visits Camp Shorabak in Afghanistan's Helmand province to advise the Afghan army's 215th Corps Mobile Strike Force Kandak medics, he usually is welcomed with hugs and handshakes from his counterparts.
The officer in charge of his advisor team told him an Afghan soldier was looking for him. Maculewicz stopped what he was doing. He took a few steps and stopped in his tracks when he saw the soldier.
"I couldn't believe it," he said as he stared at Staff Sgt. Abdul Malik. The two didn't say a word or shake hands. They just hugged for a while.
Two weeks before, Maculewicz performed life-saving steps on Malik and called in an air evacuation during Operation Aoqad Se Hasht -- 38 Eagle -- in Sangin. The operation was an Afghan-led response to a Taliban attack on Afghan uniformed and local police patrol bases.
During the first week of the operation, which saw some of the heaviest fighting, Malik and another Afghan medic were recovering a fallen soldier. Malik loaded the soldier into an ambulance and was about to open the driver's door when a bullet punched through his back below his right kidney and exited from the right side of his abdomen.
Around the time Malik was responding to the casualty call, Maculewicz was at the casualty collection point at Patrol Base Tobaq, from which the Afghan medics were operating. Unaware of Malik's situation, he heard the call about a soldier killed in action. Minutes later, he heard another call come in about a soldier who was wounded.
"I initially thought there was some confusion in the communication, because I just had heard there was a KIA, so I thought it was just a wounded soldier," Maculewicz said. "Either way, I was getting ready for what was coming my way. I was making sure my [Afghan] medic was prepared as well, should we take a casualty."
Then the ambulance pulled up.
Maculewicz said his biggest fear was that if the time ever came to save someone's life, he would freeze. Compared to his previous duty station at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he worked in the traumatic brain injury ward, the lifesaving acts he performed on Malik "were night and day," he added.
At Walter Reed, the Washington Township, N.J., native worked in shifts and had set schedules. He had a routine -- and time to think things through. Now, Maculewicz is on his first combat deployment, and it is his first time serving with a Marine Corps unit. He also is the only corpsman on the advisor team, with no set schedule or routine. He learned that from Field Medical Training Battalion at Camp Johnson, N.C.
"When I was at FMTB, where you learn how to be a combat corpsman before joining a [Marine Corps] unit, they put you in situations like I was with Malik," he said. "But when you're in a training environment, the person still lives. It's just training. But the instructors always told us, 'Once you're in that moment, it will automatically click in your head.'"
Maculewicz said he helped to pull the wounded soldier out and didn't realize who it was. "I began working on him immediately," he said, looking for wounds to Malik's chest, arms, abdomen and leg.
"Each part of the body requires different treatments," he explained. "Even if it's a gunshot wound in the arm or the leg, each will require different measures."
Once Maculewicz located the injury, he began stabilizing Malik. He treated the Afghan medic's back and rolled him over to treat the exit wound. He asked the interpreter to reassure his patient that everything was going to be OK. Then he glanced at his face and realized who it was.
Without a pause, he applied a chest seal on the wound.
"The day before the operation began, I was training the medics about keeping a patient breathing should they have an open wound between their chest and hips," Maculewicz said. "Malik was my go-to medic, so I applied a chest seal on him [to demonstrate for the class]. Now, I was doing it to save his life."
Maculewicz couldn't tell if Malik had any internal damage, but he didn't want that to go unnoticed. He knew the wounded soldier would have to be evacuated by helicopter.
While treating Malik, Maculewicz reassured him everything would be fine, while relaying information to a Marine who was calling in the evacuation request.
"It was a lot of pressure that day," the Navy corpsman said, "because in addition to all I had to do to get Malik out of there, there were also more than 20 [Afghan] soldiers watching me."
The helicopter arrived shortly after Malik was stabilized. He was loaded up on the ambulance and driven to the landing zone, and Maculewicz said what he thought were the final goodbyes.
"I thought I wasn't going to see him after that," Maculewicz said. "I mean, I was confident he was going to be fine, but I just didn't think he would be back at the unit."
Malik didn't remember much from the time he was shot to the time he arrived at the patrol base, but he did remember watching Maculewicz working on him -- and knowing he would be fine because "Doc is a great teacher." He spent two days at the Camp Bastion Role 3 hospital and a week at Camp Shorabak's clinic.
While recovering, Malik awaits orders for convalescent leave to see his family and newborn son in the Afghan capital of Kabul -- but he wanted to see Maculewicz first. The two spent more than an hour catching up, talking about the injury and the fighting in Sangin.
"He saved my life," Malik said. "I can't repay him for what he did for me, but I am going to get back to my job and keep fighting the Taliban. I will be back and be there for my soldiers' medical needs, just like Doc was there for me."
Maculewicz said he was surprised to see Malik walking, talking and laughing "as if nothing happened."
Malik said he plans to spend his leave telling his friends and family about his experience, but "most importantly, I am going to tell everyone about my friend, Doc, who is the reason why I'm here today.
"It is my hope the people I tell spread the word about the Americans and their good intentions in Afghanistan," he continued. "We call our fallen soldiers heroes, but Doc is my hero, too."
Every time Maculewicz conducted training, he said, Malik always volunteered first.
"He took the training to heart, and he was an example to his medics," he said. "We have become close during this deployment."
Maculewicz said seeing Malik wounded hit him hard, "because it would have been like treating a Marine I've known on this deployment."
The corpsman said he's no hero -- he merely did what he signed up to do.
"My mom tells me she's going to slap me upside the head, because she keeps telling me I'm too modest," Maculewicz said with a laugh. "I guess I know what's coming when I come home."