LATHROP — Harry Stokes, a combat Army medic in Afghanistan, lost both of his legs Monday when he stepped on a pressure-plated improvised explosive device or IED.
The explosion happened while the 21-year-old Lathrop soldier and his platoon were on patrol in an area near Kandahar when a firefight erupted with insurgents.
The tragedy was magnified three-fold. Not only was the Army medic the lone member of the group to unfortunately get blown up by an IED; he was the only medic in his platoon which also included some Afghan troops. To make matters even worse and more dangerous, the explosion happened when a firefight with insurgents broke out during the patrol mission.
The soldier’s father, Ron Stokes, picked up the story from there based on information relayed to him and his family by the young soldier.
“He was knocked to the ground without losing consciousness,” he said. “He hollered out to his other members, the other soldiers, to come over because they were quite stunned and didn’t know what to do since they were not medics. So he had to calm them to get their attention to help him.”
Father Stokes said his son put a tourniquet to one of his injured leg while one of the soldiers did the same thing on the other leg.
“Then he gave himself a shot of morphine on his legs as is required. All the while, the fighting was still going on; it didn’t stop. So those (soldiers) responded selflessly in harm’s way to help him,” he said.
“Everyone was just horrified – stunned – at what happened. As they were taking him off the battlefield, he just gave them a big smile and a thumbs-up on his way out of the field.”
Soldier Stokes was taken to the hospital in Kandahar but the doctors were unable to save both legs. One leg was amputated up to his knee, and the other leg was removed six inches below the knee. He also sustained some shrapnel injury, “shrapnel wounds is what they told me, nothing serious,” Ron Stokes said.
During the explosion, “something hit him in the back of his head which created vision problems, plus, he suffered from hearing loss,” he added.
Noting the dangerous situation the soldiers faced when the Army medic was being evacuated, Ron Stokes said he would want very much to “thank those guys who evacuated him out of there” but is “not sure of the names of those involved” in pulling his son out of harm’s way.
He said his son is leaving the military hospital in Germany today and will be transferred to the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, for his rehabilitation. The family will be traveling to San Antonio “to meet him at his bedside.”
They will be leaving “any day, any moment now; we’re sort of on alert. The Army department has my number,” Ron Stokes said.
It was that same phone number which rang on Monday at 9 a.m. bringing him the terrible news about his son.
“I was driving to a job interview because I’m currently unemployed. And right before I made a U-turn in the parking lot, I got a call from the Department of the Army. They told me pretty bluntly, which is good, that my son had been severely injured. I went into complete shock and just started screaming, ‘What the hell is this? Who are you? Is this just a joke?’ Just a total unbelief, total denial. But I was able to pull over and start getting the facts,” the soldier’s father recalled.
The Army medic is “the baby” in Ron and Lou Ann Stokes’ blended family that includes six children combined. He is single and never been married.
Ron Stokes said he and the rest of the family have been able to talk to the wounded soldier since Monday. Reporting on the condition of his son, Stokes said, “My son’s spirits are great. We’ve been able to talk to him. He’s just in great spirits, even with all that he’s been through. He’s more positive about his condition, according to his nurses, than what they would have expected him to be. And I keep telling him, in no time he’s going to be running up the mountain.”
Ron Stokes said his son will have prosthesis on both legs, and that he’s been classified as 100 percent disabled.
Family attends Crossroads Grace
Despite the tragedy, the Stokes remain steadfast in their faith in God.
“God is good; I love the Lord. My wife and I are members of Crossroads Grace Community Church (on Moffat Boulevard in Manteca). We’ve been going there for about a year and a half to two years,” Ron Stokes said.
Since the terrible news on Monday, the Stokes family has received an “outpouring of love from the church” as well as from family members and friends via their Facebook page where Ron Stokes has continued posting updates on the condition of his son.
The prayer chain at Crossroads was also quickly activated as soon as Gina Fitzgerald, who is in charge of “military monitor” at the church, received information about Harry Stokes and immediately sent out the “urgent prayer request” to everyone.
The word quickly spread around to people including Chuck and Teri Palmer of Manteca, the parents of fallen hero Marine Cpl Charles O. Palmer who was killed in action on May 5, 2007 in Khalidiyah in the Anbar province of Iraq.
The Palmers quickly responded to the “urgent prayer request” e-mail from Mike and Gina Fitzgerald. “Without question, we ARE praying,” wrote the concerned Palmers, adding, “If possible, when you can, please let them (Stokes family) know we are here to do anything they need. And if the Men’s Ministry (of Crossroads) does anything, let me know.”
Ted Atkins of the Men’s Ministry said the group has also been praying for the Army medic and his family.
Gina Fitzgerald said Army medic Stokes is stationed in the Lewis/McChord base in Washington state.