JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — Sgt. Roger Daniels knows he’s alive and still walking because his Army-issued helmet did something it wasn’t supposed to do.
When enemy fighters ambushed his patrol in Afghanistan last year, his helmet somehow stopped a large-caliber machine gun round that should have easily penetrated it and gravely wounded the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier.
Instead the bullet pierced the helmet, rattled around a bit and caused only a concussion and some cuts.
Daniels, 22, got to pick up the helmet Friday for the first time since the August 2012 attack.
The Army’s Virginia-based Program Executive Office Soldier, which manages the equipment soldiers use, had kept the helmet for much of the past year to study how it saved Daniels’ life.
The information that was gleaned could improve plans for the Army’s next standard-issue helmet.
Daniels broke into a wide smile when he lifted it. He seemed to marvel at the equipment and his close brush with death.
“I guess I just got lucky,” he said.
He serves in Lewis-McChord’s 109th Military Intelligence Battalion of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. Soldiers in his unit worked hard to get the helmet back from the Virginia office because they knew it was special to him.
They also used his experience to encourage soldiers to maintain their equipment and listen when they’re advised about how to use it correctly.
The message is simple but powerful: “We had a soldier who was shot in the head and walked away with only a concussion,” said Capt. David White of the intelligence battalion.
Their unit specializes in collecting and analyzing information on the battlefield. Daniels was shot on what was the battalion’s first mission outside the wire.
He was attached to an infantry platoon on overnight patrol in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province. He was there to gather information that could be used to help the infantrymen.
They stopped for the night in a compound and heard reports that insurgents were preparing to attack from three directions. Soldiers climbed on a roof and prepared for battle.
Hidden enemy fighters hit the rooftop with heavy machine guns. Three of the infantrymen were wounded.
Daniels felt the bullet strike his helmet as if he was being clubbed with a bat, he said. He staggered off the rooftop and settled in on the ground floor. Fellow intelligence soldier Spc. Shiniah McKinney, 29, tried to keep him and the other wounded soldiers calm until they could be evacuated.
“I was just in a daze, really,” Daniels said.
He spent a week at a head injury clinic in Afghanistan. He rejoined the team in Ghazni Province about a month later. He started going on missions right away.
He’s grateful for the care McKinney gave him on the day of the shooting. They’re close friends.
“It’s beyond a mental bond,” McKinney said.
“When you’ve been shot with someone, it’s just like family,” Daniels said.
He’s going to keep his damaged helmet for years to come, he said.
“It definitely did the job it was supposed to do, and then some,” said Master Sgt. Benjamin Owens of the Program Executive Office.