Patuxent River NAWCAD Purple Heart Recipient
HM3's account of surviving an IED blast
"I remember loading up in the truck and the next thing I know I'm seeing dust at my feet, my ears are ringing and I'm seeing dust everywhere," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Robert Scott Elder.
"I remember seeing a glimpse of the front window of the 'MAT-V' (M-ATV, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) All-Terrain Vehicle). I saw the ground and thought 'ahh... shit' that's when I looked over and seen my gunner's legs dangling out of the turret and I grab ahold of his boot to keep him from flying out. And then I remember repositioning myself and after that..."
Elder briefly lost consciousness from the blast of a remotely denoted IED his convoy truck rolled over. He was embedded as a Navy medic with the 3rd Battalion 6th Marines combined anti-armor team in support of operational tasks near Marjah, Afghanistan. On Memorial Day, May 30, 2010, he and three other Marine members of his convoy team, Lt. Sean Leahy, M-ATV vehicle commander, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Scholly, M-ATV driver and Lance Cpl. Justin Kilishek, turret gunner all experienced the effects of the IED's blast.
Shortly after the first few moments of the blast, Elder opened his eyes to Leahy shouting.
"I remember looking over at my lieutenant as he grabbed the COMM mounts to get across them," said Elder. "He was yelling my name. I remember something hit me and said, 'Hey, look dude, open your eyes' then I opened them. I looked down and my gunner was bleeding everywhere and then I started bleeding everywhere."
Although Elder sustained personal injuries, once he obtained consciousness his medical response was to care for the others wounded within the vehicle.
"I remember my head bleeding," said Elder. "And I remember, I reach into my pocket and grab gauze and put it on my gunner's head and that's all I remember before I was out again."
Elder's injuries included aches in his feet, legs, dislocated shoulder and later he was medically diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).
"There's a pipe that runs along the inside of the MAT-V," said Elder. "When the percussion hit, I hit my head right off that rail. It dazed me. I don't think it was the initial shock that did it, but I think it was coming down from the initial shock that knocked me out."
Recently, Elder was awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries in Afghanistan from Navy Rear Adm. Dean Peters, commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md., Dec. 11, 2014.
Why it took so long for Elder to receive his Purple Heart
"Soon after the incident, they tried to put me in for the Purple Heart, but because of an administrative error it was not properly processed, "said Elder. "After a while, I took it as if the Marines and the Navy didn't care about the significance of my injuries, but eventually it was made right because my Marines and Shipmates looked out for me."
He credits Ret. Hospital Corpsman Chief Ruben "Benny" Lessner for helping him understand and cope with what happened to him in Afghanistan. Lessner also advocated for Elder to have received official military recognition for his injuries.
"It's important for petty officer Elder, as well as, any man or woman injured in combat to receive a Purple Heart and to be recognized for their contributions, because it's the right thing to do," said Lessner. "The rules in regard to the protocol of Purple Hearts have changed. In the past, you had to generally see a gross physical injury. Today, some of these injuries these men and women are receiving aren't necessarily right there in your face as far as gross disfigurement."
Lessner describes Elder as being modest about accepting recognition for his TBI as a result of front line combat contributions.
"His [Elder's] injuries were overlooked and the paperwork wasn't submitted. I saw an opportunity to do what we do as chiefs and take care of him," said Lessner. "He didn't feel it was something that he needed or forced to have and I saw that he did."
How to emotionally cope
In order for Elder to cope with his combat experiences, he explained the best thing to do is laugh.
"I'll get on Facebook, email, or talk to Kilishek and we laugh about what happened," he added. "It's one of those things where we know we're still alive, so we can just joke around about it."
His advice for wounded warriors and veterans going through a similar experience is to open up and talk to somebody.
"There were times when I came back from Afghanistan and I would be down in the dumps," said Elder. "I didn't want to talk to anybody. But if you need the courage and the strength, I recommend talking to somebody. Once I started opening up to people who had been there, people who knew exactly what I was talking about, people who had seen and done things I had done it took the weight off of your shoulders."
Once Elder was officially awarded the Purple Heart, he seemed to still feel uncomfortable with the recognition.
"This Purple Heart does not mean I am a war hero, this Purple Heart means I was wounded in combat while I was accomplishing a mission," he said. " The real war heroes are the ones who will never have a chance to see their mother, their father, their siblings, their newborns or their spouse again. They are the ones who struggle with day-to-day life trying to walk again and those Marines and Sailors who will never fully be able to hug their loved ones every night. I am proud to say I've served next to some of them and I am proud I was able to get my wounded Marines home."
Where he is today
Currently, Elder is still an active duty military member stationed at Naval Air System Command, Patuxent River, Maryland's Environmental Physiology and Human Performance Laboratory (EPHPL). The laboratory assesses human and physiologic responses and psychomotor performances in simulated and real world military combat and training environments. The EPHPL is the only one in the United States with the capability to support networked flight simulation for extreme thermal environmental changes.
For more news from Naval Air Systems Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/navair/