Close Call for Alaska-based Soldier
"My iPhone saved my life," he says
ANCHORAGE - On May 14, Joel Stubleski was with his unit in Eastern Afghanistan, the 3-509th out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. His unit was returning from a mission when they heard gunfire.
During the commotion, he felt a strong pressure in his upper thigh. "It knocked me over." He said he didn't feel pain right away. He didn't see blood, so he continued to reload. He'd been hit.
Once he knew what had happened, he took cover and waited. A fellow soldier put the tourniquet he kept in his pocket around his leg. Stubleski waited. While he waited, he thought, "Is this it? If it is, there's nothing I can do -- at least I went out doing what I was supposed to do." He was bleeding and, he said, he started feeling tired. "I kept telling myself, don't close your eyes."
After helicopters picked him up, medics inspected his injuries. They cut off his clothes and went through his pockets. There, they found his iPhone -- with a bullet hole through it. "The medics would come up to me and say, ‘this is the coolest thing I've ever seen.’"
Stubleski wasn't carrying it for calling or texting. He said he used it as a camera or for music. The doctors told him how lucky he was that the bullet didn't hit the femoral artery. They said that the iPhone probably changed the trajectory of the bullet, making the wound shallower in his flesh. The protective cover he had on his phone made it so the glass didn't shatter, making his wounds worse. He and his friends joked they should replace their body armor with iPads.
Even though his injuries could have been worse, they were bad enough to cut his deployment short. He came back after his injury. His battle buddies didn't return until the fall. He said keeping up with them on Facebook helped lift his spirits during his recovery.
Now, nearly nine months later, his injury still pains him, "It's just given out on me when I’m walking, running, going up the stairs." It can make things he used to do, like running or skateboarding, painful and sometimes impossible. He stays active, working out at the gym on post.
At 22, his experiences at war are different than some of his peers back home, but he tries not to concentrate on that
His workout buddy Haydon Moses understands. Moses is from the same town, Muskegon Michigan. Both happened to be stationed at Fort Richardson. He says that Stubleski is an all around good guy. When Stubleski returned from Afghanistan, he stayed at Moses's house. Moses said his friend's injury made him start thinking, "That's when it gets real... you know, scary."
Stubleski carries a reminder with him of how scary it got -- a photo of his old phone made in to a custom cover for his new one.
It's a grim souvenir of the risks he's taken for his job.