Sergeant Ken Gestring of Ocean Springs will never forget what happened to him one day in early 2010 in Afghanistan. He was a medic in the Air Force, but on that day, he was also helping to provide security.
Ken says it started out as just a normal day, but he had a premonition that something bad was going to happen.
"We were being followed by maybe 15 to 20 villagers, and they were getting a little too close for comfort," he said.
Then, without warning, an explosion rocked the area.
"It blew us to the ground," he said. "I just remember falling, and it really felt almost unreal. I guess I was in shock."
Although he was wearing heavy body armor, Ken knew right away he was hurt. Shrapnel had lodged in his back, but despite being in pain, he managed to make his way to his medical bag. Almost immediately, he went to work helping others.
"They pulled over a couple of children who had been nearby," he said. "It was obvious that they were already dead when they pulled them over to me."
It was later confirmed that someone had thrown a grenade into the crowd. The Afghan government claimed an American soldier was responsible.
"I was angry when I heard that. We knew we were the ones who had almost died that day. Of course, no American had thrown that grenade," Gestring said.
The good news was that as a result of the sergeant's decisive action that day, all nine coalition members who were injured survived the attack. For his efforts helping others, despite his own wounds, the sergeant received the Purple Heart.
"I tell people that I happened to be in the wrong place at the right time," he said. "As the medic, that was the right time for me to be there to take care of people."
For his bravery, Sgt. Gestring was featured in the Air Force publication, Portraits of Courage. Ever humble, he admits it was quite an honor, but he insists he was doing nothing more than what any other medic would do in a similar situation.
Sgt. Gestring retired November 1, 2011, after 26 years of service to his country.
He makes his home in the city of Ocean Springs. He plans on enjoying his well deserved retirement, but he told us he will never forget that day in Afghanistan in 2010.
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