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Local soldier recovers from combat injuries

Sgt. Jeremy Czarnik is pictured here during a mission while deployed to Iraq. The Freeland soldier was injured in a firefight in Afghanistan on July 5. - Photo Courtesy of the Czarnik family
Sgt. Jeremy Czarnik is pictured here during a mission while deployed to Iraq. The Freeland soldier was injured in a firefight in Afghanistan on July 5.
— image credit: Photo Courtesy of the Czarnik family

FREELAND — A soldier with South Whidbey roots is recovering from wounds suffered during one of the worst firefights in recent years in the war in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Jeremy Czarnik of Freeland was shot in his right arm on July 5, the bullet busting through his ribs and puncturing his chest and lungs before exiting through his sternum.

Czarnik, 23, was airlifted from Afghanistan to Germany where military doctors at Landstuhl Medical Center saved his life, his family said.

“They were in the firefight for several hours when, he said, he felt something funny on his side. He looked down and saw the blood,” said the soldier’s father, Matt Czarnik, of Freeland.

“He told his buddy — who was also shot in the left side — and they took him down and cut his vest open,” his father said. “He says he doesn’t remember anything until waking up in the hospital in Germany.”

Czarnik is a paratrooper with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) 173rd Airborne Combat Team. The sergeant and his fellow soldiers came under attack

July 5 in the mountains in the Watapor Valley near Tsangar, Afghanistan. During the

30-hour battle, four soldiers of the company were seriously injured, including Czarnik. Two team members were killed.

Spc. Christopher Honaker, 23, from North Carolina and Pfc. Joseph Miracle, 22, from Michigan were killed after their dismounted patrol came under enemy small arms fire, according to the Department of Defense.

The Czarnik family got a phone call from the military at 6 a.m. the day following the attack.

“We almost didn’t answer the phone,” stepmother Angela Czarnik recalled.

By the time the family learned what had happened, however, their soldier was on his way to Germany after going through field surgery in Afghanistan.

The first 24 hours were sketchy, and doctors didn’t know if Czarnik would make it. A captain from the 173rd Airborne Brigade gave the family updates of Czarnik’s condition every four to five hours, and there was a phone hotline that the family could call to speak to nurses on call at the hospital.

“He was listed as an ICU in serious condition, which isn’t the worst, but they had already said they would have to fly me and his mom out to Germany,” his father recalled.

About three days after the attack, the soldier was able to call home himself and tell his father that he was OK.

“The first time he called was Sunday,” his father said. “He didn’t really say much. They had just taken the tube out. He just said he was fine and he said he was sore. He said the whole time he was fine.”

It was also the first time that Czarnik got the chance to talk to his son’s doctor and ask about the details of the injuries. Miraculously, the bullet had done surprisingly little damage to other vital organs.

The next day, Jeremy seemed to be on his way to recovery.

“Monday we talked and his voice sounded incredibly better,” Czarnik said.

Czarnik, an EMT, went to Germany two weeks ago to check out his son’s progress.

The trip was an unfortunate family reunion for more reasons than one.

“We were the ones that told him about the two guys that got killed,” Czarnik said. “It really bummed him out. He knew both of them.”

Czarnik was impressed with the medical facilities and the staff at the hospital and how the Army served its wounded soldiers.

“They seemed to take their injured very serious,” Czarnik said.

After a few more days at the hospital, Jeremy was released and the Army gave him convalescent leave. He eventually returned to Italy where he is stationed.

His father said his son still has trouble with his arm and back and is very sore.

He occasionally discovers a scratch or scar that he isn’t sure how he got. But overall, his son is doing much better.

It is not clear if he will return to duty in Afghanistan with his teammates. His company deployed for Afghanistan in May and is scheduled for a 15-month tour.

“It depends,” Angela Czarnik said. “They’ll check how he is doing physically and psychologically.”

The family said they could only imagine how tough it would be for their son to return to Afghanistan, but his father is confident.

“He has a lot of experience, this tour to Afghanistan, and before that, he was in Iraq for 11 months,” Czarnik said.

The injury wasn’t their son’s first brush with death, however.

“Jeremy already had a close call in paratrooper school. He had a bad fall and busted his arm up,” Angela Czarnik said.

“In Afghanistan, the truck behind him blew up, ripping the guys in it apart,” she said.

“In Iraq, his vehicle came around a corner and a bomb exploded in a trash can,” Matt Czarnik added.

The family is now looking forward to a few uneventful days when their soldiers comes home on leave. If all goes well, he is expected for a visit in about two weeks to see his sisters Jennifer, 21 and Alexis, 3, and step brothers Adam and Kyle, both 15, as well as his grandpa Lenny Workman and other relatives who live on Whidbey.

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