All in a day's work
Editor’s note: The following is the first in a series of stories about members of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division injured in combat during the 3,500-member “Spartan” brigade’s 10-month deployment to Afghanistan, which lasted from Dec. 2011 to Oct. 2012.
For Army Staff Sergeant Justin Grimm, getting shot at is all in a day’s work.
“When you sign up for a job that you’re going to fight in and you deploy enough, you get the sense that it’s going to happen sooner or later,” said Grimm, a member of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
Grimm’s time came on May 14, 2012 in Afghanistan, when he lost a finger during a fierce gun battle following an ambush by the Taliban.
For the paratrooper with the 3-509th Battalion, the incident did little to make him re-think his dangerous occupation.
“If anything it strengthened my resolve,” Grimm said during an interview Feb. 28.
Grimm’s patrol had just arrested a “high value target” and was making its way on foot to Command Outpost Herrera in rural Paktia Province. Grimm was at the rear of the column when the soldiers came under gunfire while walking through a village.
“I pulled everyone from the back and sprinted to the front, and by that time I got shot at from behind,” Grimm said.
Insurgents were attacking from three sides, Grimm said, and the soldiers quickly had to figure out how to respond.
“It’s literally just react,” he said.
Grimm took cover as best he could and began engaging the enemy. Then he was hit.
“It felt like someone hit me with a sledgehammer,” he said.
Grimm’s left hand was badly damaged, but he continued fighting alongside his fellow soldiers. It wasn’t easy, even for the former college track athlete.
“Those rifles get heavy pretty fast,” he said.
After a sustained firefight, the patrol was able to gain superiority over the insurgents, and Grimm was flown out via helicopter. Three U.S. soldiers were injured, though none were killed.
“We were able to put it down pretty fast,” Grimm said.
Grimm underwent surgery on his hand, but his left ring finger was beyond saving. For many married soldiers, this could be a disaster. But luckily, Grimm’s wedding band was unscathed.
“When they put me under [for surgery], after I woke up it was tied to my right wrist,” said the father of three young boys.
Grimm said his wife, Bianca, didn’t let him live that one down.
“She said I did it on purpose,” Grimm joked.
He said his wife didn’t believe him when he first told her — on Mother’s Day, no less — that he’d been injured.
“She thinks I’m bulletproof,” he said.
Grimm joined the Army in 2009 after spending more than five years in the Marines, where he was twice sent to Iraq. He has regained about 40 percent of the use of his hand, but said it hurts constantly and makes working out more difficult. But it’s not going to keep Grimm away from the battlefield, where he said he is most comfortable.
“My very first memory, when I was about four years old, I knew I was going to be in the Marine Corps,” he said.
Grimm said he enjoys being in the field alongside his fellow infantrymen.
“I like being boots on the ground, muddy, dirty, sweaty, bloody,” he said. “I’m wired that way. It’s weird.”
Grimm said he plans to make it to retirement and go into teaching. He’d like to coach track or football, he said, and he’s finishing his associate’s degree this spring.
And although he lost his finger in Afghanistan, Grimm said he’d be more than willing to return to combat duty.
“It’s just like in the real world — everyone has their place, has their job,” he said.