by Scott Prater
1/9/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior
Airman Ryan Turvey's primary duty during his first deployment was to
provide and enhance security at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Prior to
his May 2012 deployment, the 50th Security Forces Airman prepared
himself to endure the less-than-ideal working conditions presented by
Afghanistan's environment, but he had no idea this assignment would
fundamentally change his perspective of the world.
Turvey wasn't on assignment for a week before he encountered the harsh
realities of life in rural Afghanistan. As a gunner on an armored
personnel carrier known as an M-ATV, Turvey patrolled an area outside
the base for more than four months, searching for suspicious activity.
He and his crew of four occasionally found something worth
investigating, but much of their time was spent learning their
surroundings and interacting with the locals outside the wire.
The actual living conditions of the Afghan population surrounding the
base hit Turvey with full force when a local boy approached his patrol
vehicle just a few days into his deployment.
"As he approached us, I noticed his legs were badly burned," Turvey, an
Ohio native, said. "By way of simple gestures, broken sentences and the
intervention of a few makeshift interpreters, we learned his gruesome
The boy, known to security forces members as Sadam, told the story of
how he was attempting to steal gasoline from one of the fuel trucks
parked in a staging area outside the base. Hoping to make some money,
the boy held a plastic shopping bag under the fuel tap at the back of a
truck, turned the spigot and filled up the bag. He had almost finished
when a local Afghan truck driver caught him in the act.
Startled, the boy dropped the bag, splashing fuel up to his knees.
That's when the truck driver exacted a swift and brutal punishment. He
simply tossed a lit match at the boy, setting both of his legs aflame.
"We're not sure how much time had passed, but we encountered Sadam later
the same day," Turvey said. "Due to security concerns, we weren't able
to take him on to the base for medical attention, so we did what we
Using self-aid buddy care, Turvey bandaged the boy's legs with supplies
from his vehicle. Upon returning to the base later that evening, he
sought guidance from medical personnel.
"It was a difficult situation," he said. "Those were the worst burns
I've ever seen. I held little hope for his survival. I did what I could
and a lot of people chipped in to provide bandages and disinfectants,
but all we could do was keep changing his bandages and hope his injuries
Diligently, he changed Sadam's bandages every day. Meanwhile, he sought medical advice from a variety of sources.
"My mom works in a hospital stateside and she asked burn doctors there
for their best treatment advice," Turvey said. "The doctors told us the
boy's wounds needed to be kept cleaned and aired out. Well, this kid
lives in the dirt. He doesn't shower. He doesn't have a change of
clothes. We had few options. Our only hope was to keep changing his
Tech. Sgt. David Koppenhaver was one of 12 50 SFS Airmen who deployed
along with Turvey. His primary duty involved inspecting delivery trucks
at the Bagram entry control point near the area. Hearing Turvey's tale,
he saw an opportunity to help as well.
"In the truck inspection area, we often found military field kits in the
trucks," he said. "The drivers are not supposed to have them and
they're not allowed to bring them onto the base, so we confiscated
Many of those bandages found their way to Turvey, who used every inch.
"Sadam wasn't alone," Turvey said. "The locals are mostly farmers, but
the community had set up markets and strip malls along the road leading
to the base entry control point. The strip malls aren't what we think
of, they're more like shanties. And, there are kids everywhere, a lot of
them. They get cut up just living and playing, so it seemed like we
bandaged a different kid up every day."
Clearly affected by what they'd witnessed for months in the searing
Afghanistan sun, Turvey and his fellow Airmen began asking for toys and
food in their care packages from home.
"When you first give a kid a soda you expect him to guzzle it down with a
smile," he said. "These kids? They'd take the soda and run off. Later
we found out that soda was valuable and that the kids could get a decent
price for them even opened."
Turvey never knew where Sadam went at night or where he slept, but come
sunrise, he was always out there with the other kids, looking for a way
to make money.
As summer turned to fall, temperatures cooled at night. Some of the
children had heavy clothing, but most didn't have real shoes. Calls went
out around Bagram for shoes and winter coats.
Two weeks prior to the end of his deployment, Turvey's unit's
replacements arrived. The senior airman briefed the new security forces
members on the area and introduced some of the locals, including a young
boy with scarred legs. Following four months of bandaging and healing,
Sadam had survived. Turvey no longer worried about the boy losing his
"He made a miraculous recovery," Turvey said. "But I don't think I'll
ever forget the night we had to pour peroxide on his burns. He didn't
even cry. He's the toughest kid I've ever met. That said, I don't think
he would have survived without our help."
Upon reflection, Turvey admitted he would like to deploy back to
Afghanistan, despite the 80-hour work weeks, extreme temperatures and
barracks-style living arrangements.
"There's something to be said for doing the job," he said. "The entire
deployment I woke up, put on my uniform, went to work, came home, ate,
showered, slept and did it all over again."
The idea of making a real difference in people's lives went unmentioned,
but he hopes that through his actions, he's helped win a few hearts and
"I like to think they like us," he said. "That the food and shoes and
winter clothes we gave them made a difference. Maybe one day when they
have a decision to make, they'll remember us."