House: Travis Air Force Base Fisher House at Travis AFB, Calif.
Home State: New Jersey & Texas
Military Branch: Air Force
There was a calming strength that Tech Sgt. James “Jim” Davis spoke with when recalling the April 23 mission that could have killed him. When he reminisced about the mission that began at 3:30 in the morning, he was confident but cautious in his tale. What was supposed to be a routine mission ended up not-so-routine, and concluded nearly six hours later.
Davis was stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan when he received a call about a downed Army helicopter in a dangerous Afghan valley that needed to be rescued.
“When the Army helicopter went down, from the time we received notification, we were prepared and airborne within less than 15 minutes,” Davis said. “It was a 10 minute flight from where we were in Bagram to the crash site.”
When they arrived at the crash site 20 miles away, Davis, who was the flight engineer, worked with the Army helicopters already on the scene to obtain vital information before executing the recovery. Davis and his crew hovered down and established themselves near the wreckage, tactically making the decision to avoid being directly over the crash and putting his guys where the enemies knew they would be.
“I was directing the pilots where to go when they told me we couldn’t go any lower,” Davis said. “All I could see were rocks, and we still had about 160 feet below us. I just said, ‘It’s going to be a long hoist’ and we got stabilized.”
Steady in hover mode, Davis hooked his team on the hoist cable and sent them down 160 feet to the crash below. It took about 30 seconds until they reached ground and Davis was working as fast as he could since their helicopter had already been hovering for several minutes.
Once his men were on the ground, Davis began to retrieve the hoist, but as he moved away from the door back to his seat, the helicopter took four or five rounds through the floor. One of these rounds went through Davis’ right leg; the rest barely avoiding him and hitting the ceiling instead.
“As soon as I got hit I said, ‘go, go, go!’ and the pilot realized the urgency in my voice. He knew something was wrong and we flew as fast as we could out of that ravine and around the terrain to avoid being shot at more,” Davis said.
Davis calmly assessed his situation and began putting a tourniquet on his leg, which was bleeding “pretty bad.” His co-pilot flew them back to Bagram while Davis was almost losing consciousness from blood loss. In the helicopter, Staff Sgt. William Gonzalez helped Davis tighten the tourniquet to stop the bleeding, and wrapped the wound.
When Davis arrived at the Bagram ER, the doctors were not ready – so Captain Louis Nolting and Gonzales grabbed Davis and carried him into the ER. Another Marine Corps Lieutenant saw what was transpiring and jumped in to help. To this day Davis still does not know who helped carry him into the hospital.
In typical military fashion, once Davis was settled in, his men jumped back into the helicopter, picked up a spare flight engineer and flew back to complete the pararescue mission.
Davis spent the first 24 hours of his injury in Bagram receiving nearly 40 units of blood for what he lost; getting the wound cleaned; removing shrapnel; and completing a CT scan to assess the extent of the damage. It was in the Bagram hospital that he received his Purple Heart and Air Force Combat Action Medal.
From there Davis was air-lifted to Landstuhl for six days where he received two more surgeries to clean his wound and remove dead tissue before being sent to Andrews Air Force Base while en route to his end destination at Travis Air Force Base in California.
At long last Davis would get to see his wife Kate and his two children who were staying at the Fisher House.
“When I found out that he was hurt, I was so upset, it was almost too much for my mind to grasp,” Kate recalled. “I heard about the Fisher House but I had no idea what it was.”
Kate quickly found out what the Fisher House was and all the advantages of being so close to her recovering husband.
“There’s not one moment about this place that hasn’t been extraordinary. I’ve been thinking about what it means to us and the people here; it’s a beacon of hope,” she said. “They cook for us almost every night and the people that stay here are wonderful; it’s not a feeling of sympathy, it’s empathy. They can relate because they’re vets or going through the same situation. You have a support group here that makes all this bearable. For my husband, there are military people here that know what he’s going through when he talks about his injury. It’s not just a listening ear and not having a clue. They get it.”
For their children, Kate and Jim know they’re comfortable and have others to play with. For each other, it’s knowing that they are together and aren’t dealing with this alone. They have each other to rely on, and plenty of other families to rely on as well. They cook together, watch movies, talk and hang out. “It’s good for everybody,” Jim said.
Kate also credits manager Charlene Hall and assistant manager Jane Hassanieh for being so supportive and going above and beyond to ensure the Davis’ are comfortable. Whether it’s changing a light bulb, providing a planner to Kate after learning she was exhausted and had so much to do, or getting a car seat for the family upon their arrival, they were well taken care of.
Had it not been for the Fisher House, recovery would look a lot different for the Davis family. Because Jim is labeled as a “non-serious injury,” Kate received 30-day orders to be with her husband, meaning everything after would be at their cost. Otherwise the Davis family would have to return to their home in Okinawa, Japan while Jim would become a hospital in-patient.
“If my family was here and then had to leave, the mental stress alone would have broken my spirit and caused me to go into a state of depression and hampered my recovery,” Jim said. “My wife and kids are motivation all the time. I look at my son and daughter and my end goal and driving factor is to attend my son’s graduation and walk my daughter down the aisle. I can make a cane look sexy, but not a wheelchair.”
“Kate’s been here to pick me up when I fall down, I don’t know what I’d do without her. Being here and having my family has been one of the blessings and provided light out of the darkness.”