Airman shares journey after combat injury takes leg
By Maj. Cathleen Snow, 920th Rescue Wing
/ Published May 23, 2017
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Difficult and challenging things happen to everyone, but having resiliency is the ability to bounce back after facing diversity, said the 45th Space Wing Interim Command Chief Master Sgt. Alexander Hall as he addressed Airmen during Wingman Day.
The command chief then turned the floor over to Staff Sgt. August O’Niell, pararescueman, and his Air Force Reserve Wingmen, Maj. Paul Carpenter, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter instructor pilot, and Chief Master Sgt. Randolph Wells, special mission aviation superintendent.
The three embarked on a 2011 deployment to save lives when O’Niell was shot through both legs during a combat rescue mission in Afghanistan.
Carpenter recalled piloting the pave hawk helicopter casualty evacuation mission on the morning of July 11th into the hotly contested Helmand Province to save a wounded servicemember.
O’Niell rode in the back to provide medical treatment while Wells manned the aircraft mini gun.
Soon, the aircraft took on enemy fire, but Wells said due to a complete lack of visibility, he could not return fire for fear civilians were in the area.
Carpenter employed evasion maneuvers, but an enemy bullet slid into Staff Sgt. August O’Niell’s left leg penetrating though the other.
With his service dog Kai by his side, O'Niell shared what his life was like before joining the Air Force, then he detailed the events after getting shot on that July 11th mission.
After 20 surgeries, three-and-a-half years after the incident, O’Niell said he decided to have his left leg amputated above the knee to put an end to the excruciating pain he felt, non-stop. The decision allowed him to return to full duty in late 2015 and began training to rejoin his pararescue team.
After suffering through his ordeal, O’Niell summed up that it was the ‘little wins that equaled hope’ for him through it all. He encouraged others and stated, “no matter what you are facing, set small goals for yourself.”
Both Wells and Carpenter serve with the 301st Rescue Squadron, part of the 920th Rescue Wing here and O’Niell is assigned to the 350th Battlefield Airman Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. His father is a government employee with the 45th Space Wing here.
O’Niell is the only pararescue amputee serving in the Air Force