11/20/05 — He could not leave friends behind

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He could not leave friends behind

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on November 20, 2005 2:08 AM

Goldsboro native U.S. Army Maj. Christopher Plummer didn't stop to think about danger when he heard the blast as he and members of his joint reconnaissance patrol made their way through the Logar Desert in Afghanistan.

He didn't stop to think that his vehicle had just made it past the land mine that destroyed the one behind his.

He didn't worry about who could be poised to attack.

There just wasn't time.

"My first reaction was shock," he said via e-mail from his post in Afghanistan when asked to describe the events of March 26. "I heard and felt the concussion of the blast behind me and immediately knew we had been hit."

His next thoughts were for his friends, fellow soldiers and members of his unit, who were in the vehicle that was destroyed.

"I didn't know we had any casualties until I stopped the vehicle and went around to the back and saw four of my comrades lying in the desert," Plummer said. "They had all been thrown from the vehicle, and what was left of the vehicle had been flipped upside down."

There wasn't time to think then either. He didn't know if his friends were dead or alive, and he had to find out.

"I had a feeling of numbness, and for a second, I was just trying to clear my head and figure out what happened," he said. "I then realized I had a critical decision to make."

He took a few moments then, a very few, to think about what might happen next.

"I could be standing in a mine field. If so, do I stay where I am or move to the casualties. If I don't move to treat them, they will surely die. If I do move, I may step on a mine and be a casualty, too."

But sometimes, a soldier -- and a friend -- doesn't really have a choice. Courage comes softly with determination and conviction, replacing danger and concern with resolve.

Plummer decided he simply couldn't leave his friends.

"I looked at them again, gritted my teeth and began moving toward them," he said. "My legs felt weak and heavy with every step. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, I could only get to the first two. The others much farther away were clearly already dead. I attempted to treat them, but unfortunately, there was nothing I could do."

And there, in the middle of a mine field, Plummer looked for the last time into the eyes of one of his friends.

"I had known one of them for a long time," he said. "He died in front of me. But I am glad I tried. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I hadn't."

After requesting help from a Medevac and a mine detection team, Plummer moved in and personally carried each of his friends to the helicopter.

Now, months later, Plummer still has not forgotten how he felt at that moment, even as he stood at a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, while Air Force Maj. Gen. John T. Brennan, U.S. security coordinator and chief, Office of Security Cooperation, Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command, pinned a Bronze Star on his uniform.

He says what he did is what any soldier would have done, and while he is proud of the recognition, he says he is just one of many heroes.

"Gen. Tommy Franks once told me at a military function, 'if you pick up the phone and dial 1-800-US-ARMY, it is not a toll-free call,'" Plummer said. "Serving in the military is dangerous. Even routine training back in the States is high risk. Everyone who joins the military knows those risks. In my opinion, anyone who is willing to raise his or her right hand and serve is already a hero."

And Plummer is no stranger to those risks and sacrifices. Serving as the training development officer for the Afghan National Army, he has been assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom since January. He recently was redeployed back to the United States, specifically to continue his training.

Plummer personally coordinated the building of interim facilities in three regional corps with value in excess of $3.3 million, his military resume reads. His management of training and fielding programs resulted in more than 6,400 soldiers being trained in the Afghan National Army.

After returning home, he will spend time in command training and has been recommended for even more responsibility, possibly as a battalion commander.

That is just one of Plummer's many accomplishments since he began his military career as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He became a squad leader with the Airborne Infantry while he was at Fort Bragg. He then became a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C., earned a degree and went to Korea, where he was a mechanized infantry platoon leader, scout platoon leader and an executive officer. While in Korea, he reached the rank of first lieutenant.

He then went to Alaska where he served as a light infantry rifle company commander and commandant of the Northern Warfare Training Center. In Alaska he reached the rank of captain. After that, came the rank of major and his work in Afghanistan.

He says he is surrounded by bravery every day.

"I think serving in the military is the most honorable profession there is," he said. "Even today, I watch those 20- and 21-year-old kids moving out to execute high-risk missions in Afghanistan that may cost them their lives. They don't blink an eye. They don't say a word. They go knowing they may not come back again. They go anyway, and I feel so proud of their personal sacrifice, to be willing to lay down their lives so others may be free."

Plummer said he and other soldiers, as well as members of the other armed forces, are doing critical, dangerous and necessary work.

"The original architects of 9/11 came out of Afghanistan, and it was a nest bed for terrorism," he said. "Not anymore, as our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines have flushed out the Taliban from the main urban areas and continue to reduce the militants still operating throughout the country. There are many firefights, roadside bombs, mortar and rocket attacks every day here. But with each passing day, the Afghan National Army grows stronger, and the militants are forced to operate in smaller groups with less area to operate in."

Plummer said he became interested in the military as a child when he tagged along to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base with his dad, Ken, who is retired military himself.

"Military machines and technology always fascinated me," Plummer said. "So did the study of military history. There was never a doubt in my mind. I was going to serve."

Ken Plummer said he was not surprised to hear his son earned the Bronze Star, it is just another honor he says the 40-year-old can add to an already distinguished career.

But he still remembers that little boy.

"I'd take him on military planes," he said. "He wanted to fly, but he was too tall. So, he said, 'I'll just jump out of them.'"

Is his dad proud?

"You bet," Ken Plummer said. "That goes without saying."

But even with all his accomplishments and the new honor for his uniform, Plummer said he wishes he could change one part of that March day.

"It was an honor to receive the Bronze Star, but I would give anything to have those four guys back," he said.