I make a point of walking with each Veteran every day or two. Several days ago I finally asked Piotr what had happened to the finger that is missing on his right hand. The following is his story:
He was deployed to Ghazni, Afghanistan in 2011 to work with the Afghan National Police. On a standard mission, they were diverted to perform a “cordon and search” of a suspected munitions bunker concealed in a house in a small village just 15 kilometers south of Forward Operating Base Ghazni. An area I know all too well.
Once the village was surrounded, his police element moved in. The Afghans take the lead with the Polish advisors just behind. At first it was just an eerie feeling of walking through what appeared to be an abandoned village, but the hair stood up on his neck when they entered the town square and were facing a line of old men and young boys holding hands in a line facing them.
Piotr had just enough time for the sensation to register that something was wrong before all hell broke loose and the taliban opened the ambush using the line of people as human shields.
Piotr is a big man. The next thought that registered is that the taliban would pick him as the first target as he was easily the biggest and easiest to hit. He wasn’t wrong.
The first round went through the flesh of his left arm, just above the elbow. He didn’t even notice that because almost simultaneously, 4 more bullets stitched across his chest impacting the assortment of grenades, ammunition magazines and ultimately his armor plating.
Next, his right hand was tossed to his side. He brought it back down to grab his rifle and find a target but something was wrong. He looked at his hand and his pointer finger was missing. He looked at the back of his hand and saw that his finger was there, but in the completely wrong place.. It didn’t make sense. He took a covered position as the fight ensued, kept trying to grab his pistol to return fire but frustratingly couldn’t grasp his weapon as his finger was hanging by a shred of torn skin.
The fight lasted an eternity of 20 minutes. The despicable ambush involving children resulted in 2 other Polish soldiers getting wounded. One died later from the wounds.
With a casual glance, you can’t really tell that Piotr is missing a finger. The scars on his left arm are more apparent as he is completely adjusted to doing everything minus one digit.
He talks to his wife and 2 daughters every day, they are the center of his universe and he glows with pride every time he talks about them. He also tells me how his family is worried.
Piotr is returning to Afghanistan next November for another deployment. I could see a shadow cross over his face when he told me this. He is a damned good soldier but also a husband and father now.
In this short time sharing “The Way” with Piotr, I have seen his heart and how big it is. I’m proud to be making this journey with him on the Camino.
Left to right – Piotr, Dan, Witold arrive in Burgos. Piotr on the train from Paris.