Crater High graduate earns medal after near-fatal Afghanistan injury
The news that Mount Ashland was sporting a white coat of early October snow elicited a groan from Tyler Andreatta.
"I miss the Rogue Valley more than anything — that snow must be nice right now," said Andreatta, a Marine Corps sergeant speaking by phone Wednesday night from Afghanistan, where he is recovering from a near-fatal bullet wound.
An avid outdoorsman who was a competitive skier on the mountain, the 2004 Crater High School graduate was shot July 15 while on a mission in a Cobra helicopter in Helmand Province.
An avionics and weapons technician with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 at Camp Bastion in the Helmand Province, Andreatta, 25, was awarded the Purple Heart medal by the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos ,during a ceremony on Sept. 23.
"Meeting the commandant was quite an honor," said Andreatta, whose great-grandfather and grandfather both served in the Corps.
The Medford native, who was a graduate of Sacred Heart School before attending high school and was an altar server at Sacred Heart Church, is the grandson of Gene and Mary Ann Smith of Medford. His mother, longtime Medford resident Sheila Andreatta, recently moved from the Rogue Valley to Portland because of her work. His wife, Kaytlin, lives in Eugene, where she is a golf instructor.
The sergeant, who joined the Corps nearly five years ago, recalled that on the morning of July 15 his unit was deployed to help provide air cover for some wounded Marines in a village about 25 minutes by air from Camp Bastion. The camp is northwest of Lashkar Gah, the province capital.
"The bad guys on the ground had shot off two or three waves of (medivac) helicopters," said Andreatta, a veteran of some two-dozen Cobra missions during the six months he has been in country. "We were in a light attack helicopter. We were there to provide air support, but we didn't have clearance. I was observation, looking for weapons and trying to find where the bad guys were. But there was a lot of people down there in the village."
As the helicopter circled overhead, it was hit by six rifle rounds in a few seconds. One bullet slammed into Andreatta, hitting him on the lower left side about five inches below his armpit. It exited out his back near his shoulder blade.
The Cobra sped back to Camp Bastion, the site of the nearest military hospital.
"I remember being conscious the whole time," he said. "I was able to walk off the helicopter. I didn't pass out until I got to the ambulance."
Andreatta would undergo two surgeries during his 12-day stay in the hospital to remove remnants of the bullet, which narrowly missed his heart.
"The second surgery, they cut me open bullet hole to bullet hole," he said. "The doc said if the bullet had been another centimeter over I wouldn't be here."
After his hospital stay, he participated in the Wounded Warrior program for about three weeks before returning to light duty.
"They gave me choice to stay here or go home," he said. "I decided to stay here and get better and finish the fight. I'm still working on getting my full range of motion back."
He spends the first half of his work day in physical therapy, then works the remainder at his squadron.
"The flight line on base is a very safe place but anytime you get out of camp, either flying or on the ground, you are definitely in harm's way," he said.
Andreatta expects to be back in the Rogue Valley to visit family and friends while on leave in December. He is scheduled to complete his hitch in the Corps in February. Upon his discharge, he plans to go to college in Eugene.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.