An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Purple road to resiliency

  • Published
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

When deployed, military members are trained to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. Even with all of the necessary training, some tragedies can’t be avoided.

One of Dyess’ very own, Tech. Sgt. Jesus Soto, 7th Maintenance Group quality assurance inspector, a Purple Heart recipient knows all too well about unexpected tragedies and the perseverance to make it through.

During his first deployment in November 2005, Senior Airman Soto was assigned to the 1st Security Forces Squadron as a gunner out of Langley AFB, Va., deployed to Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. During his deployment, Soto was involved in an incident that would change his life forever.

“Our main mission was to provide security to joint U.S. convoys and foreign national supply trucks,” Soto said. “We received a normal night mission to escort (foreign contractors), supplies and fuel to Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq, around 6 p.m. We armed up, received our intel brief of activities on the road and areas to watch out for, picked up our supplies and fuel and headed out the gate.”

Soto didn’t know it then, but Nov. 21, 2005, would be a life changing day for him.

Half-way to their destination, the vehicle in front of Soto’s truck got hit with an improvised explosive device while crossing a bridge. The truck was carrying oil drums and violently exploded. Soto’s team tried to perform a sweep and locate the driver but was unable to due to the fire and pitch black surrounding them. Once the fire died down, they noticed a hand near the rear axle and realized it was the driver who had tried to escape but got stuck.

“We were unable to remove him, due to his position under the truck, so we had to wait for the quick response force to bring a semi-tow truck. They arrived around 2 a.m. and released us to continue our convoy,” Soto said.

Soto’s convoy arrived at their destination around 4:00 a.m., and then had to escort 20 fuel tankers back to FOB Speicher. His particular truck’s job was too move forward in traffic and block intersections so no one could infiltrate the convoy. This proved to be a more difficult task as they not only hit traffic, but also heavy rain.

“One vehicle we encountered wouldn’t yield to our commands. We considered it to be hostile, so our second to last command is to shove the vehicle. Then the gunner engages to get the vehicle to move,” Soto said. “I heard a lot of screaming from down below, and when I looked down I saw everyone bracing. I immediately braced myself on the platform and the last thing I remember is being sucked out of the truck.”

Soto’s truck lost control on the wet road when trying to push the hostile vehicle. When he was thrown from the truck, the machine gun had caught Soto and ruptured his bladder. He landed on his left side breaking his left leg, forearm, and clavicle and shattering his left wrist. The impact was so hard it blew out his right hip and caused lacerations throughout his body.

“I was conscious the entire time, but couldn’t feel any pain other than in my groin,” Soto said. “I was medically evacuated to the emergency room at Speicher and underwent my first surgery where they repaired my bladder.”

During the next month, Soto would be medically evacuated two more times before arriving back at Langley and receiving a final surgery where a plate was installed on his left clavicle and pins in his wrist. His left leg healed on its own so no surgery was necessary.

“My wrist was so shattered the doctor said they put bones where they thought they went. I have limited motion and can’t pronate my arm, it’s just stiff,” Soto said. “I went through intensive physical therapy and it was a long recovery process.”

With the support of his leadership team and the intense research he conducted, Soto was awarded the Purple Heart on Oct. 30, 2015, for his heroism and injuries sustained during that fateful day.

“I wasn’t doing anything outside of my typical duties,” Soto said. “I was just doing my job, I don’t think I was doing anything heroic.”

Through his incident and recovery, Soto has become more spiritual and uses that to help him be resilient and make it through the tough days.

“I appreciate a lot more things, and this experience humbled me,” Soto said. “Overall my spirituality grew tremendously and that’s what helped me overcome all the chaos that was happening and focus my attention to be able to think clearly.”

Due to his strong will and resilient mindset, Soto has been selected to attend a Warrior CARE Event, hosted by the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. There he will help mentor service members who are going through similar situations. This program provides personalized care, services and advocacy to seriously wounded, ill or recovering service members as well as their caregivers and families.

“I was thrown back when my name was put in, but this is a great opportunity where I can assist others,” Soto said. “I’ll be helping warriors who have questions on the medical evaluation board process, fighting for their deserved medals, board of corrections for casualty reports and what resources are available to us.”

Although it was a long road for Soto, he never gave up and continued to fight through his injuries and many processes necessary to fulfill his Air Force career and oath he made to his country.

“If we always run away from a problem, where would we go? Where would we be,” Soto said. “We all face tribulations, but we can’t give up despite how things may seem. I kept a positive mind and didn’t dwell on the event, because I didn’t want it to become me.”