Purple Heart recipient shares Afghanistan adventure

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrea F. Liechti
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Airmen were only seven days away from coming home when their three-man quick response team was called out to inspect the improvised explosive device an Army mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle had run over.

It was a normal mission, but shortly after the team arrived, it turned for the worse. As the driver slowly moved closer to the scene, the left front tire of his MRAP hit an IED. The gunner was thrown into the air. He landed on the turret stand of the MRAP.

Staff Sgt. Timothy I. Donnan, of the 115th Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight, was the gunner that cold January day in Afghanistan. He survived that explosion and was awarded the Purple Heart on Dec. 12 at a ceremony on Truax Field in Madison.

"I feel privileged to be recognized with this award," he said. "I have multiple friends who have worse injuries."

Donnan has a friend who is blind, others who are missing limbs, and some who have lost their lives in combat.

"I'm not missing any digits," he said.

He may have all of his fingers and toes, but Donnan didn't come back to the 115 EOD the same Airman he was when he left. Since the incident, he has been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury, short term memory loss and a wedged disc in his back. In addition, he has an unexplained clicking noise in his neck.

Despite those injuries, Donnan has more drive and passion that he did prior to the deployment, said Tech. Sgt. Erich J. Sanford, also of the 115 EOD.

"He loves his job," Sanford said. "First thing he did when he got back was try to go active duty."

Donnan and Sanford were tasked to deploy at the same time and completed their initial deployment training together in July 2011 at Tyndell Air Force Base, Fla. Following their month-long training they were assigned to different QRTs and wouldn't see each other again until after the IED incident.

Donnan, alongside Tech. Sgt. Eric Hubbard, Portland Air National Guard, and Staff Sgt. Cole Pasley, Lincirk Air Base, Turkey, was assigned as an EOD technician in a QRT at Forward Operating Base Andar in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, the team covered four different operating bases in Afghanistan. Whenever units from those bases located IEDs, it was the QRT that was called out to dismantle the roadside bombs. On a regular basis they would risk their own lives to ensure IEDs were destroyed properly.

"Every IED we get rid of is another life saved," Donnan said.

The QRT also collected data from roadside bombs that had exploded. DNA samples gathered from those IED sites led to the identification of more than 30 insurgents.

The Airmen had successfully completed more than 110 missions when they were called to execute post-blast analysis on the IED the MRAP had run over.

"My team chief got out of the truck to find out more information about the incident," Donnan said. "When he got back in we were going to move closer to the scene to begin our investigation."

They were following in the same tracks the convoy had paved when their tire rolled over the IED. Right after the explosion, Donnan found himself in a surreal situation.

"I remember feeling weightless," he said. "The voices I heard were muffled. I couldn't understand what anyone was saying."

For what felt like minutes but were most likely seconds later, an adrenaline rush struck him faster than lightning strikes the ground.

"I thought we were entering World War III," Donnan said.

He jumped up to grab his weapons. They weren't there. Searching frantically, Donnan discovered they were at his feet. His M-4 and the ammo he used to protect himself over the last 168 days had chased him to the ground. He hadn't noticed the impact as they landed on top of him milliseconds after the explosion.

"I didn't have any pain for the next few hours," Donnan said. "We continued our mission and completed evaluations on both IEDs."

He didn't even receive medical attention until eight hours later, and, over the next
week, Donnan put service before self and completed two additional missions.

Donnan's eyes lit up with excitement as he told stories of his adventures in Afghanistan. He's already counting down the days to his next deployment.