CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
“The Marines from the other platoon were saying how calm it was. They usually got hit with small arms fire or mortars, but that day nothing happened …”
So began Cpl. Christopher Landers’ account of a seemingly routine combat logistics patrol near Sangin, Afghanistan, in August 2010. He and his fellow motor transportation operators with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, made the trek to Forward Operating Base Nolay from their home base of Camp Leatherneck, and though strangely uneventful for a route notorious for enemy contact, the patrol went off without a hitch.
It is the trip back that remains on Landers’ mind, quite literally, in the form of a two-inch scar across the top of his head.
Following several improvised explosive devise strikes just a few miles after departing friendly lines, the Haverhill, Mass., native was in the process of informing another Marine of a wounded comrade’s status when a loud, sharp crack pierced the air. Rendered senseless for a few moments, Landers suspected he himself just fell victim to yet another IED. As the initial shock wore off, however, he realized this attack was a lot more personal than the randomness of explosives or mortars.
A well-aimed gunshot to the head always is.
“We were maybe five to six miles out and already had hit two or three improvised explosive devices,” he said. “At one point we heard one of the Marines was under one of the immobilized vehicles, and I thought to myself, ‘that’s not good,’ so I drove up and started helping in any way I could.”
Landers did what he could to assist the situation. He helped corpsmen tend to wounds, carried injured Marines to the casualty evacuation helicopter and offered to help sweep for mines in order for the bird to land.
“One of my buddies was injured in the blast, but he was okay so I went to let our other friend know he was okay,” he said. “After I climbed up on the vehicle, that’s when it happened.”
He described what he thought was another IED explosion, something he experienced firsthand on a previous deployment to Afghanistan.
“I’ve been in situations where vehicles would stray off the tracks or continue a sweep and would hit another IED, and that’s what the sound reminded me of,” explained Landers.
The alleged blast knocked Landers off the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle to the ground. After the shock wore off, he quickly realized his initial assessment of the incident was incorrect.
An enemy combatant’s bullet had pierced the right side of Landers’ kevlar helmet, grazed the top of his head, and then exited the left side.
“I felt blood dripping down my head,” Landers recalled. “As everyone saw me, they turned around to look for a shooter, my sergeant yelled out ‘sniper’ so we took cover.”
Not only did they have to stay alert of the sniper and small arms fire, they also had to avoid being struck by mortars. Landers remained conscious and coherent as docs tended to his wounds.
After the scene was secured, Landers himself was air lifted to Camp Bastion, adjacent to Camp Leatherneck, where he received immediate medical care. Shortly thereafter, he began his whirlwind trip back to the U.S., which included stops at Bagram Air Base and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, before arriving at The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
After spending approximately two weeks in Bethesda, Landers made his return to Massachusetts to further recover in the company of friends and family.
Landers since returned to duty aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., and currently works in the operations section within Combat Logistics Regiment 2 headquarters. He recalls the events often; each time thoughtfully analyzing everything that was in play that day back in the summer of 2010.
On top of the “what ifs,” he made sure to note his new appreciation for training and weapons.
“I definitely respect training a lot more, it’s not that I didn’t think they were important before, but I’ve never seen how important it was firsthand,” said Landers. “When I saw a rifle for the first time after being back, I had a lot more respect for it. The guy who shot me chose me out of everyone else. The attack was a lot more intimate than an IED or (indirect fire). The rifle made it personal, and I have a whole new respect for the damage they can cause.”
He also credited the corpsmen who were on the scene throughout the ordeal. Amid the chaos, their calm, collected and professional manner undoubtedly saved lives.
“Just the way they took care of me and responded to the situation made me respect them that much more,” said Landers.
It was respect that drew Landers to the Corps in the first place during middle school. It is the history, he said, that drew him in and now, he is very much a part of it.
Though on the cusp of complete recovery, Landers still feels the effects from that summer day in 2010. Due to the resulting traumatic brain injury, he has trouble with his speech at times and is still defensive when he hears sounds similar to shots. Regardless, he and his new wife continue to keep their eyes on the future, taking it one day at a time. In true Marine fashion, however, the close brush with death has not deterred him from wanting to head back to the fight, for his fellow brothers in arms.
“I don’t want to be that guy who watches his buddies come and go every deployment,” explains Landers. “If they clear me to go again, I’d go.”