Navy corpsman Jacob Emmott was treating the second casualty of an intense firefight in Afghanistan when he became the third man down.
Struck in the face by a bullet, Emmott’s injury left his platoon with three casualties and no doc to prep them for evacuation. Instead, fighting pain and disorientation, Emmott instructed Marines in packing and bandaging the wounds of each casualty, including his own severe head injury. He then loaded himself into the medical evacuation helicopter, freeing up a pair of litters for other casualties.
“By all means, that should have ended my life right there,” he said.
Emmott, 24, survived his injuries, and his actions earned him the Silver Star.
“He could’ve definitely just laid there,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Platt, a machine gunner in Emmott’s platoon who was injured that day. “If I had been shot in the face, I would’ve been worried about whether I would make it or not. But he was worried about us making it or not.”
Emmott deployed to Helmand province with the 2nd Marine Regiment in early 2010, part of surge forces pushing for gains in heavily disputed territory. His unit moved north from Patrol Base Habib, in northern Helmand, to establish a new outpost they christened Patrol Base Griffin, after a fallen friend.
Regular foot patrols were necessary to check for the presence of Taliban, and on April 2, Emmott joined his Marine platoon to “kick the hornet’s nest” once again, he said. Recent resistance in the area suggested they were in for a fight.
“We knew it was going to be an interesting day,” Emmott said.
The patrol trekked across a dry flood plain spanning the length of a valley, following a wadi with steep banks that offered limited shelter when occasional gunfire rang out. The Marines twice took distant potshots as they advanced, catching little more than fleeting glimpses of an enemy who showed little interest in sticking around.
That changed with a third attack. Heavy fire opened up from multiple directions in the area of a nearby village, and the Marines were forced to dig in as the fighters held their ground.
About 10 minutes into the action, Lance Cpl. Ron Holton suffered a gunshot wounds to one leg, drawing Emmott over to begin treatment despite the heavy fire. Holton was then hit in the other leg. Emmott was preparing to move Holton toward a casualty collection point when Platt went down.
He had also been shot in the leg, with a clear entry and exit wound. Emmott pushed the litter bearers with Holton on to the collection point as he turned to the injured gunner. Just as he started, he was hit.
“He looked at me and then he said, ‘Oh, God,’ and he started doing the dead man shake,” Platt said.
Emmott remembers being focused on the gunner’s wound. Then he was on his back, staring at the sky, and someone was calling his name.
A bullet had struck him in the face, he would later learn, knocking him unconscious for several minutes. When a Marine pulled Emmott’s helmet off, he said a sheet of blood fell over his eyes.
He refused morphine, and he instructed the Marine to wrap a loose bandage around his head. Emmott was then carried to the collection point where he found the other two Marines.
“I started looking at them, going over their injuries and I was thinking, ‘I gotta make sure they’re all right,’” he said.
His balance was off, his vision blurred. Several Marines came over, and he walked them through the treatment of each wound. When a medical evacuation helicopter arrived, he staggered to the bird with help and loaded himself last — the position reserved for the most critically injured.
The bullet that entered the side of his left nostril tore through sinus cavities and ruptured an ear drum before exiting behind his right ear. It grazed a major artery, he said.
“It happened to pass through that sweet spot that happened to be the size of a bullet,” Emmott said.
His recovery was long and painful. Surgery at the Naval hospital in Bethesda, Md., left him unable to speak for a while, said Holton, who visited him there. Emmott wrote down what he wanted on a notepad, often questioning the staff.
“He was definitely never afraid to tell the nurses or anyone else what he thought, because he knew what he needed to do,” Holton said.
His physical wounds have healed, but Emmott has struggled with a brain injury and severe PTSD, clouding his thought and moods, he said. He left the Navy in January to settle in his hometown of Wakefield, R.I. His next step is school, where he hopes to study therapy and psychiatry.
In the meantime, he’s been traveling to visit friends at places like Camp Lejune, N.C., where he was stationed.
The former medic hopes he’ll continue to care for servicemembers in his future.
“I’ve unfortunately been through the ringer as far as therapy is concerned after my injury,” he said. “So it’d be really good if I could pass that on to some other guys.”