Courageous Airman receives Purple Heart
By Senior Airman Torey Griffith, 11th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 22, 2011
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Improvised explosive devices are a real threat to every service member deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of continued combat and reconstructive operations.
American and coalition security patrols, reconstruction teams, supply convoys and even peoples native to the area are under constant threat by these hidden dangers, and deployers undergo extensive training to identify and avoid IEDs.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians, however, aren't trained to avoid these dangers. These men and women go straight to the threat, using their extensive training and high-tech tools to neutralize the potential danger.
Tech Sgt. Michael Danylec, an 11th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician, is no exception. Rather, he is a shining example of the courage instilled in all EOD technicians.
Danylec received the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Medal in a ceremony here Sept. 16 from none other than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen.
While deployed to the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, Danylec and his EOD team were dispatched to remove a suspected IED from a culvert on a road where coalition members often traveled.
After attempting to disarm the IED using the remote-controlled bomb robot, Danylec was unable to see inside the culvert to make sure there were no more explosives inside. He suited up and cautiously approached the culvert. Once he looked inside and confirmed there were no more explosives, Danylec's world was rocked by an explosion.
"I knew instantly that I had stepped on a secondary IED. My foot went numb, and there was a big 'bang,' and a dust cloud," he said. "At that point I wanted to get out of the hole as fast as possible."
Danylec Crawled to safety, unable to walk and unable to feel his right foot. His team members helped him remove the bomb suit and assess his injury.
In true EOD technician fashion, Danylec didn't panic and didn't let the mission halt. He told his second in command what he had done, seen and heard so he could "get down there and take of the problem that was still at hand. I had to make sure he could do it safely, because I couldn't continue the mission at that point," he said.
The technicians secured the area and Danylec was taken for medical treatment. The bones in his right foot were severely fragmented - to the point where surgery was impossible. Rather than amputate, however, doctors decided to let the bones heal on their own.
"At some point I will recover," Danylec said. "I'm going to heal up, come back better and stronger, and probably deploy right back over there. Hopefully we can catch the guy who's still out there placing bombs, if they haven't caught him already."
Telling his story after the ceremony, Danylec recounted that day matter-of-factly.
"I didn't panic. I know the risks that are involved. I know the tools that I have, and I know how to disarm explosives as safely as possible," he said coolly. "That's the same for technicians in all of the services. We all go to the same school and get the same training. I know all my EOD brothers and sisters feel the same way."
Danylec said that training was what took over after the explosion.
"What got me through was focusing on the next thing. My first focus was, 'I have to get out of this hole,' then my focus shifted to 'I have to get out of here and make this as safe as possible for my team members.' I had to get my guys mentally prepared for what they were about to do," he said.
The hero was humbled when he discovered Admiral Mullen was to present him a Purple Heart.
"I didn't expect somebody as high-ranking as Admiral Mullen to come down to present this to me," Danylec said. "I don't think of myself as an important enough person to take up his time."
Taking his healing a day at a time, Danylec said he counts his blessings to still be alive.
"I'm happy to be able to still be here to see my wife and son," he said.