There was no time to think, or even register fear, when a rocket-propelled grenade ripped into a Humvee and detonated in the driver’s lap. “All I knew is: It was hot, I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe,” said Cpl. Helen L. Ruhl, one of four soldiers injured in the Sept. 24 blast in eastern Afghanistan. Yet Ruhl could — and did — manage to act.
Despite her own injuries, the 24-year-old Fort Carson medic is credited with helping to save the driver’s life by stanching his bleeding and then returning fire on insurgents as her comrade was taken away for treatment.
She received a Bronze Star for valor Wednesday in a ceremony on Fort Carson. It’s the military’s fourth highest award for valor.
The driver lost a leg but may not have survived without Ruhl’s quick thinking, a top commander said.
“She’s the kind of medic I would like to have on a combat patrol,” Fort Carson Deputy Commanding General for Support Brig. Gen. James Pasquarette said after pinning Ruhl with the award. Her father, Daniel Rosario of Cape Coral, Fla., stood at his daughter’s side while Pasquarette praised Ruhl’s “awe-inspiring” actions before an audience that included soldiers in the 4th Brigade Combat Team’s rear detachment.
Ruhl serves in the 4th Brigade Combat Team’s 704th Brigade Support Battalion.
The attack came as Ruhl’s Humvee was returning to Jalalabadin northern Afghanistan after a supply mission.
After an insurgent fired an armor-piercing RPG into the vehicle, Ruhl helped get the driver out of the vehicle, applied a tourniquet to his leg and then provided cover fire to allow for his escape.
“You go through (the training) so much, so often, that when do have to do it, you don’t have to think about it,” she said, describing the firefight as a “terrible way to win a wonderful honor.”
Ruhl, of Vero Beach, Fla., suffered permanent hearing loss and was hospitalized for three months, in part because the blast ruptured a previously undetected cyst in her brain, causing temporary blindness. The cyst was not malignant, and Ruhl has been returned to duty, although Army doctors will not allow her to return to combat.
She said she plans to become a nurse and seek a commission in the Army.