October 31, 2013 --
A group of Marines escorting a convoy of Afghanistan National Army members in Marjah, Helmand Province on Sept. 1, 2010, traveled in 110-degree temperatures and clear blue skies instead of red air that occurs when dense dust covers the sky in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Robert Stull, and about 15 other Marines with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C., conducted a security escort in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles. Their trip that day would change Stull’s and two other Marines’ lives and earn them each a Purple Heart.
The Tampa, Fla., native recounted the events three years ago that earned him a Purple Heart. Stull is currently a member of the Base Operations and Training Division, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
The motor transport operator will be medically retired because of the Sept. 1, 2010 event and from post-traumatic stress disorder he suffers due to multiple deployments.
“Our area of operations was north Marjah and all of Sistani (and) we were part of the ending of the invasion of Marjah to clear it of Taliban,” the 31-year-old Marine said. “(September 1,) our mission was to go to Camp Wilson in Sistani — about 10 miles away from Forward Operating Base Hanson where I was in the center of the north part of Marjah.”
The Marines in their six MATV vehicles staggered themselves throughout a convoy that also consisted of 50 Afghan National Army mortar men in eight of their own trucks. The group journeyed from FOB Hanson to Camp Wilson. The ANA’s mortar section was located at Camp Wilson.
“They were doing a changeover,” Stull said. “We were providing security and leading them to Camp Wilson.”
The convoy traveled safely to its destination where the Marines dropped off the ANA and began the return trip to FOB Hanson. When the Marines were roughly 5 miles from FOB Hanson, Stull’s vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.
There was a wadi or canal on the left side of his vehicle and a farm field on the right side.
His was the lead MATV in the convoy and the IED was located in the center of the road.
The IED explosion lifted the MATV off the ground about 5-10 feet in the air and threw it 10 feet off the road a little bit into the farm field, Stull said. He was sitting in the front passenger’s seat.
“It was a command detonation improvised explosive device,” Stull said, noting the IED was rigged to be set off by one person who was 300 yards away. “(The person) set it off a little early. It wasn’t a direct hit. It hit the very front of the vehicle, equivalent to where a bumper would be on a car.”
“I don’t remember almost any of it,” he added. “I remember before, but during that timeframe until say about 3-4 minutes later was when I started to realize what was going on. I was out for seconds, but I was still confused, dazed. It felt like somebody was taking the end of a hammer and pushing it through my brain. I couldn’t really hear much, like a low tone.
“My driver broke both his legs and (received) a grade 3 concussion,” Stull continued. “My gunner ruptured his spleen, lost his left eye and (received) a concussion. I was lucky. I had a grade 3 concussion and that was it. A grade 3 concussion is the worst kind of concussion you can have. It’s basically a traumatic brain injury.”
Communication to the other vehicles was out and Stull used a secondary communication system to talk to the Marines in the other five MATVs.
Once he found the red flag in the darkness of his MATV he raised it out of the gunner’s turret, which meant they needed help (green flags meant everybody was good).
“I (did) the best I could with the (other Marine’s) eye,” Stull said. “All I heard was screams from both.”
Following the IED blast, an Army Black Hawk medevac helicopter flew Stull and the two other Marines to Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, and he was eventually transferred to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. Away from Marjah for 10 days, Stull requested to return.
“I wanted to be with my Marines,” Stull said, recalling a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter transported him back to Marjah.
“I felt the joy of being back,” he said. “What I said to myself was ‘I’m home.’”
Stull and his unit served in Marjah for seven months. The Sept. 1 incident, his second IED hit, happened midway through his tour.
Then, he was hit by a third IED. In the first and third IED hits, Stull received two grade 2 concussions, which were not as severe.
“They do tests after you get hit by IEDs,” Stull said, adding there are three levels of concussions. “You have level one, two and three. Level one is the least of a concussion, level two (is the) middle and level three is obviously the worst.”
Stull received his Purple Heart at Camp Lejeune at the end of February 2011 during a ceremony with 49 other Marines in his unit, two of them who were with him in the MATV, Sept. 1, 2010.
“It was bittersweet,” he said about receiving the Purple Heart. “I didn’t really think about myself. I thought about other Marines and what they went through, too, (especially) those killed during the deployment.”
A Marine for 11 years, Stull has been on five deployments and been to 22 countries such as Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, Kenya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Spain and Portugal. He described leaving the Marine Corps as the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
“Marines will understand what it means (who) have experienced (what I did) or haven’t experienced it — prepare for victory,” Stull said. “In everything you do you want to be victorious. Victorious could be how you decipher it. Victorious could be how you accomplish something or overwhelm the enemy. To be victorious you have to be prepared, and being prepared means lead, follow, train yourself, train others, teach, listen, guide, so that’s my biggest saying, ‘prepare for victory,’ because as a Marine you are not supposed to accept defeat, period.
“I think it’s an honor (to have served),” Stull concluded. “I’m going to miss it.”
Retired 1st Sgt. Anthony Wade, operations and plans specialist, Operations and Training Division, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, crafted a walking cane for Stull to commemorate his Marine Corps career. Wade; Sgt. Maj. Conrad Potts, sergeant major, MCLB Albany; and a group of Marines and friends presented the cane to Stull during a dinner in his honor, recently.
“It took me about two weeks to make,” Wade said. “To be retired and still spend every day with Marines is awesome, but to have been a part of this warrior’s life is priceless, and I wanted to make sure this would be something he would cherish for the rest of his life.”
Potts portrayed Stull as a stellar Marine who is the epitome of “the saying that ‘all gave some, but some gave all.’ Sergeant Stull gave it his all and sacrificed for this country.
“He wants to stay in, but due to his medical condition he cannot,” Potts said. “No, his wounds are not visible to the eye, but they are there and real. He has been a stellar Marine (who) will be missed in the Corps’ ranks. He will take with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that is irreplaceable and we wish him and his family the very best.”