Hill staff sgt. recalls harrowing 10-hour firefight in Afghanistan

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Kyle Bushey says he thought of only two things during a grim, 10-hour firefight he endured in Afghanistan last year: keeping his team safe and staying alive to see his then-unborn son.

Bushey, 24, is a staff sergeant and bomb technician with the 775th Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight at Hill Air Force Base. In February 2014, Bushey’s very first deployment sent him to Afghanistan, where, after a few months in the region, he was involved in a battle that will forever shape his time in the Air Force. 

On May 21, 2014, while deployed to the 466th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, Bushey, Tech. Sgt. Kristopher Parker and Senior Airman T.J. Brantley set out on a mission to assist Army forces and Afghan Border Police by clearing a cave system in the mountains of Kandahar Province that was believed to be holding explosives, ammunition and supplies for insurgent forces.

“Up until that day, it was a pretty quiet deployment,” Bushey said. “But that changed really quick.”

As the team first approached the cave system, they began taking enemy fire about 100 yards from the cave opening. The rounds came at a furious pace, hitting rocks and other pieces of land just feet away from the airmen.

“It was just complete shock and awe,” Bushey said, recalling the moment he was being fired on by enemy forces. “This was my first deployment, so I hadn’t experienced anything like this. I was looking around like, ’Is this really happening?’”

Bushey and the others immediately began returning fire to keep the enemies in the cave, and then moved away to allow close-air-support aircraft to conduct air strikes on the area.

The clearing air strikes allowed the team to approach the cave for a second time, where they destroyed four Improvised Explosive Device caches.

As the mission neared its distressing fifth hour, another round of air fire allowed Bushey’s team to approach the cave for a third time, where they were once again met with rapid machine gun fire. While returning fire, Brantley pulled a soldier out of the line of fire. An Army lieutenant suffered a gunshot wound to the leg, which resulted in a shattered bone.

The insurgents then started firing rocket-propelled grenades and tossed a 20-pound IED toward the group, propelling Parker and Brantley off their positions and leaving them both with severe concussions.

“They both ended up with traumatic brain injuries,” Bushey said.

Though both concussed and still under enemy fire, Parker and Brantley provided care to the army lieutenant and carried him to a safer cover position.

All the while, Bushey provided cover fire with his M-4 rifle, allowing the troops to safely evacuate the injured lieutenant. Heat exposure caused Bushey to lose consciousness several times during the ordeal, but he managed to continue his cover fire and helped establish a landing zone for an incoming rescue team.

At the end of the incident, all friendly troops were evacuated safely.

“All I thought about was getting the team out of there safely and staying alive so I could see my son,” Bushey said. “There really wasn’t time to think about anything else.”

Bushey accomplished his first objective that day, when the team evacuated safely. The next occurred a few months later, on Sept. 30, 2014 — the day his son, Carson, was born.

“I just wanted to see my son,” Bushey said. “That was always in the back of my mind during that whole ordeal. I’m glad it happened.”

For his efforts, Bushey was one of 24 airmen included in the Air Force’s annual “Portraits of Courage” publication. He was also submitted for the Bronze Star Medal With Valor.

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