Utah Air Guardsman's life saved... by a safety brief

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lillian Chatwin
  • 151st ARW/PA
Staff Sgt. Jason Butterfield, an intelligence analyst with the 151st Operations Group Intelligence, suffered a left wrist and hand injury when riding in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle that rolled near Helmand province, Afghanistan Feb. 10, 2009.

The injury could have been much worse, possibly even fatal, had it not been for the mandatory safety brief Sergeant Butterfield attended just one day before accident.

As a Utah Air National Guard intelligence analyst, stationed within the 2nd Brigade Embedded Training Team in Qalat, Afghanistan, Sergeant Butterfield's job was to mentor an Afghan National Army (ANA) intelligence analyst. Along with a linguist, Butterfield and his ANA partner would travel in convoys along mission routes. Their mission was to extricate and discern information from the locals, and then report any findings that could help locate terrorists or insurgents.

The night before Sergeant Butterfield's accident, insurgents in stolen uniforms set up a fake check point, killed several bodyguards, and kidnapped an Afghan diplomat. Sergeant Butterfield and his team went out the following day looking for leads.

"Helmand is a known Taliban stronghold province," said Sergeant Butterfield. "It was an intense investigation because of the possibility of an ambush. The insurgents would know that we would be coming out there that day to investigate the incident."

The 2nd Brigade ETT made their time in Helmand's Province as efficient as possible, and expedited their trip back to Qalat by speeding. Sergeant Butterfield was the gunner that day, standing in the turret of the MRAP. He was riding backwards, facing the sector of fire. 

"I heard the driver shout, 'We're going to lose it!" said Sergeant Butterfield. "So I dived down into the vehicle, just as we started rolling down a hill."

Sergeant Butterfield sustained a concussion during the roll. The turret crushed his left wrist and hand, causing it to break into four compound fractures. This in turn, severed every tendon in his wrist. To free him from the vehicle, the ANA had to dig his right arm out from under the turret. His right arm was not injured.

The other three passengers in the MRAP were wearing seatbelts, and they escaped unharmed.

Sergeant Butterfield was wearing his helmet - strapped to his chin, safety goggles, and a bullet-proof vest. But most importantly, thanks to a mandatory MRAP safety briefing held just one day before the accident, he wore the turret harness for the very first time, he said.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Sergeant Butterfield. "That harness kept me from getting tossed out. Then the MRAP probably would have rolled over me."

Sergeant Butterfield was medically evacuated back to the U.S. where he spent the next two months in recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

"The doctors wanted to amputate my hand more than once," said Sergeant Butterfield. "They debated it several times, but thankfully decided not to. They pulled tendons from my leg to repair the ones in my arm."

After eight surgeries and many months of therapy, he has regained partial use of his hand.

"My left hand is more of an assisting hand rather than a fully-functional hand," said Sergeant Butterfield. "I don't have full range-of-motion. I can't grip with it. I can't lace up my boots or button my uniform."

Doctors anticipate two more surgeries but they don't expect he will regain full use of his left hand, said Sergeant Butterfield, who is right handed.

"The injury has humbled me, and given me a more positive outlook on life," said Sergeant Butterfield. "Being at Brooke's, seeing the other more serious injuries there and how other people dealt with their injuries, gave me perspective on my own injury. I decided that it is what it is, and I can either be depressed or deal with it. I chose to adapt and move on with life. I don't dwell on what I can't do. I dwell on what I can do."

Since Sergeant Butterfield's injury makes him non-deployable, he said he is expecting honorable discharge papers from the military to arrive in September.

"I don't want to stay in the military if I'm non-deployable," said Sergeant Butterfield. "Deploying is what I like to do."

A board is reviewing the incident to see if Sergeant Butterfield can be awarded the Purple Heart, said 2nd Lt. Scott Waddell, a 151st OGI officer and supervisor to Sergeant Butterfield.

"We're going to be sad to lose Jason," said Lieutenant Waddell. "He's one of the best guys we have. I've secretly been fighting to keep him. I wish we had more people like Jason, who are willing to go on deployment, come to work on time, and be happy to do the job."

Sergeant Butterfield has been back in Utah since the end of April 2009. Though he has served in several other deployments around the world, this was his first deployment to Afghanistan. Before this deployment, Sergeant Butterfield was in training at Utah Valley University to become a pilot. His plan now is to major in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Utah, and then gain employment as an intelligence analyst for the FBI, CIA, or the National Security Agency.

As an apex to his recovery experience, Sergeant Butterfield has recently started a non-profit organization to help wounded service members returning from war zones. For more information about how to help, please visit the official site at afflictedwarheros.org.