War on Terrorism

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Face of Defense: Soldier Shows Courage Under Fire

By Army Staff Sgt. Whitney Hughes
86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team

PAKTIA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 21, 2010 – “It kind of felt like Chuck Norris kicked me in the side,” is how Army Pfc. Phillip Mexcur described how it feels to get shot.

But that’s the extent of the theatrics Mexcur will offer in his narration of the day he was hit by two rounds of sniper fire, a story he tells in a tone so subtle that his voice barely reaches above a whisper, as if he were telling a bedtime story rather than a near-death experience.

For most soldiers, this would be the end of the story, but not for the 22-year-old fire support specialist from Concord, N.H., with the Vermont National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment. During a Sept. 25 patrol here near the village of Yazeen on the two-year anniversary of his graduation from basic training, he was hit with two rounds of sniper fire. The rounds were stopped by the side plate of his body armor.

Immediately after realizing he wasn’t injured, Mexcur performed a casualty assessment of his platoon sergeant, gave the distance and direction of the sniper fire and directed close-air support, all within two minutes of being shot.

“I wasn’t hurt, so there was no point in not doing my job,” he said. “Even if I was bleeding out, I’d still want to do my job.”

After the second shot, he dropped to the ground and his squad leader, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Smith of North Haverville, N.H., checked him out. After Rogers determined he was OK, Mexcur said, his first concern was his platoon sergeant, Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Keirnan of Merrimack, N.H., who was hit by the sniper fire in the foot. Mexcur’s training as a fire support specialist kicked in, and he got on the radio.

“He instantly got on the radio and started calling in [close-air support]. That’s when the F-16 came out of nowhere,” said Army Sgt. Dustin Rogers, Mexcur’s team leader from Peterburough, N.H. “That’s the type of guy he is. He’s way more mature than his rank. He is really into his job.”

Mexcur wanted to call in a medical evacuation helicopter for Keirnan, but Keirnan wouldn’t allow it. “He did not want to give the enemy the satisfaction of knowing they wounded one of us,” Mexcur recalled. So instead, Rogers went to a local villager and bought a wheelbarrow for $10 and used that to get Keirnan back to their trucks.

Keirnan still was able to give some direction to his soldiers, but Mexcur saw he needed help. So the private first class, with just two years in the Army, stepped in to lead alongside his platoon sergeant.

“Thirty percent [of the orders] were coming out of his mouth. For the rest, I just knew what needed to get done,” Mexcur said.

For Mexcur, it was not a big deal.

“I have a different way of looking at things,” he said. “I respect the rank, but I didn’t do anything that a person my age, with my experience, shouldn’t have. I guess it is just the way our parents raised us.”

Some of the other soldiers say Mexcur is blessed with the luck of the Irish. Mexcur even wears a Celtic cross in his Kevlar band.

“I kept it in my pocket until that day, when I put it in my Kevlar band, … and then I got shot,” Mexcur said as matter-of-factly as if he were telling you his favorite color.

Despite any luck that may have been involved Sept. 25, it was Mexcur’s even-keeled nature and uncanny maturity that gave him the ability to rise to the occasion and perform well above his rank, Rogers said. These qualities, combined with his intense commitment to his job and fellow soldiers, are what make Mexcur’s future in the Army a bright one, he added.

“He really is a professional -- one of the guys who gets stuff done,” Rogers said. “He’s one of the few guys you can really rely on.”

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