Accounts of unsung heroes doing amazing things in the United States military are perhaps more commonplace than the average American can imagine.
Despite frequently having to face situations and make decisions that combine to form incredible stories, countless soldiers and sailors ply their trades virtually without notice from beyond their own units. While some do so for relatively short periods and then reenter “normal” society, others choose to stay with it longer.
One soldier who calls Houston home and fits the latter category has been deployed five times to the Middle East – four times to Iraq and once more to Afghanistan. Why does U.S. Army Staff Sgt. and Mortar Section Leader Bryan Daniel keep going back?
“I enjoy it,” Daniel said. “The way I’ve always said it before is that it’s like going out for football – you go through all the practice and when the game comes up, you don’t want to sit on the bench, you want to get in the game.”
Daniel’s enjoyment of being surrounded by danger finally caught up with him during a firefight Aug. 25 in Afghanistan. He took a bullet in his left leg, lost a tremendous amount of blood, and is basically lucky to be alive.
At first, doctors thought Daniels’ leg might have to be amputated. But steps were taken that preserved it, and a half-dozen or more surgeries later, the 34-year-old Daniel is now using crutches to get around and talks about walking again.
“There’s only a small strip of my leg that has any feeling in it,” Daniel said, “but it works.”
He even has fighting again way in the back of his mind.
“But it’s completely unknown,” he said. “We haven’t been able to assess all the damage yet. But I’m supposed to go to drill sergeant school in February. The doctors asked me what I wanted to, and I said ‘I want to make drill sergeant school.’ I might be walking by then, but we just don’t know.”
Daniel’s father Randy was born in Houston and now lives in Iowa, and his grandfather Dean is a Houston resident. When he isn’t overseas fighting for the Army, Daniel (who is single and has three children from a previous marriage) spends most of his time with A Co. 3-15 Infantry (4IBCT, 3ID) at Georgia’s Fort Stewart (near Savannah).
His Middle East deployments include four tours in Iraq – one with the Iowa National Guard and three with the 4th Infantry from Fort Carson, Colo. – and a tour in Afghanistan with his current unit. He joined the National Guard in 1997, went active in 2005, and has since earned Pathfinder status.
Daniel said his fate might have been different and his wound worse than just critical had the bullet that entered his leg been of higher quality. But when it hit his femur, it shattered into six pieces, rather than continuing through.
“It didn’t even chip the bone,” Daniel said. “They use a lot of 1970s Chinese ammunition or 1980s Russian ammunition, so a lot of their ammo doesn’t have the punch that ammo does now. If it was a brand new bullet, I’m pretty sure it would have been a lot worse.
“The magic bullet caused a lot of damage, but a lot of really good doctors pulled everything together.”
Daniel’s injury occurred during a mission to deter Afghan insurgents from launching rockets on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Airborne, in Wardak Province in the east-central part of the country.
“We were up on a ridgeline called Razorback Ridge,” he said, “and we were trying to destroy the rocket platforms before they fired, or once they fired we’d have ‘eyes-on’ and know where they were. They saw us coming and they maneuvered up on us. A firefight started and we were taking fire from three or four directions. I took a bullet in the leg from one of the directions.”
Daniel figures that being in harm’s way as many times as he has increased the odds that he would eventually be a victim.
“I guess that’s why I don’t feel too bad about getting shot,” he said. “After five deployments, I kind of earned it. But I’ve done a lot of damage in both of these countries, so I have nothing against the guy who shot me. He’s in pieces anyway.”
Daniel said there’s another reason the bullet didn’t make it through the bone.
“Milk and bourbon,” he said. “That makes strong bones. And the Daniel bloodline – bullets are not our weakness.”
While being in a firefight for the first time can make the seemingly toughest of soldiers shrink in terror, it has always had a different effect on Sgt. Daniels.
“I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie, and to me it’s fun,” he said. “The second time we got in a fight on that ridge was the first time most of the guys there had been in a firefight. There was fear everywhere, with guys just lying down holding their rifles trying to figure out what to do. At the same time, I was sitting back with my mortar laughing. That’s just my response once it starts. I don’t think it’s funny, but my adrenaline starts and I just start laughing. You see guys who you think are going to save the world curl up in a ball and cry, and you see guys who get picked on every day of their lives go out there and tear it up.
“You never know until you’re there.”
Members of the Daniel family gathered last weekend for a reunion in Texas County. Randy Daniel said even though he always prepared himself for the news his son was hurt or worse, he still felt some shock when Bryan’s captain called direct from the battlefield.
“It’s funny, because it’s a call I’ve always expected and I thought I’d be ready for it,” he said. “I figured that him being him, he was going to go out there and get shot, but the day I got the call it really bothered me. I didn’t know at that time how bad the wound really was, but they gave me a lot of information and I knew he was going to be OK, but it still was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be and it caught me by surprise.
“But a soldier is what Bryan had always been – that’s all he ever wanted to be since he was born. I’m glad he’s able to do what he likes to do, and he’s very good at it.
“We’re very proud of him,” Dean Bryan said.
Sgt. Daniel hopes his series of surgeries is over, and he wishes he could add a sixth deployment.
“Since I got transferred to infantry and run my own section and run my own guys, you stay together and you know where you’re going,” he said. “I feel bad about this whole thing, and I’ve actually apologized to my section because I left them. They’re like, ‘it’s not like you were going to stay – you almost died.’
“But it still bothers me and I wish I could go back.”
You see guys who you think are going to save the world curl up in a ball and cry, and you see guys who get picked on every day of their lives go out there and tear it up. You never know until you’re there.”