Zach Silva sat at a table inside The Kozy Kitchen restaurant and forked through a stack of chocolate chip pancakes.
He paused for a bit and twisted in his chair, reaching his right hand across to his left shirt sleeve and pulled it back to reveal a wide spray of dark purple marks that covered most of his left tricep.
There are more scars spread across his back, too, but Zach is less willing to show those wounds to anyone else.
The 23-year-old former Barrington High School graduate is a medic in the U.S. Army and his infantry unit was moving through a farming village near Kandahar, Afghanistan on May 9 when the first of two IEDs exploded. The blast injured soldiers and a translator.
Zach sprang into action, helping the wounded men and preparing them for an emergency helicopter evacuation. The unit received word that a Black Hawk was on its way and would touch down a short distance away.
“We hadn’t cleared that area,” Zach said of the landing location, “but we didn’t have a choice.”
Zach and his fellow soldiers transported the injured people to the chopper, and shortly after it departed, a second IED detonated — Zach said it wasn’t clear whether someone stepped on the improvised explosive device or if it had been triggered with a remote.
Shrapnel from the bomb tore into Zach’s arm and back and also injured a number of other soldiers.
“The bird was already out of the area, so we had to wait for another one. That took about a half-hour,” he said. After the second chopper transported those more seriously injured, Zach and the others walked back to the base.
Word of his Zach’s injuries eventually reached the Barrington home of Ron Silva. Zach’s dad said the first call he received about the combat incident didn’t offer much in the way of details, just alerting Mr. Silva to the fact that his son had been injured.
Ron waited for more information and eventually heard from an Army officer two days later, who told him the story of Zach’s efforts — “The sergeant said Zach saved a lot of lives that day,” he said. The experience left Mr. Silva rattled and concerned.
“Yeah, it does keep me up at night,” he said, during the recent interview at The Kozy Kitchen. He looked at his son and smiled.
Zach, sitting across the table from his father, grinned back.
“You sleep just fine,” he said.
The young soldier recently enjoyed a short respite at home, visiting with friends and family, eating some home-cooked meals, and thinking about the day he would return to Afghanistan.
“I miss my guys,” he said. “Is it like a team? It’s more like a family. You spend a lot of time with these guys. Even the guys you hate, you still love.”
Zach said he is the only medic assigned to a group of 30 soldiers and works with those men day-in and day-out as they run patrols and handle other assignments. He said some of his work is dealing with sick soldiers or other minor trauma. Then, on occasion, he’s called on to handle more serious injuries — the translator injured during the May 9 incident eventually died and another soldier lost both his legs.
The former Barrington High School football player said readjustment to civilian life is more difficult than he thought it would be — “Yeah, society, and not breathing in sand all the time,” — but added that his family has been extremely supportive. His grandfather, Ron Silva, Sr., served as a Marine and understands how combat affects people. He said he was extremely proud of his grandson.
Zach said one of the first things he did upon returning to Barrington on June 5 was stop by the Bayside YMCA pool. For years he worked as a lifeguard at the pool and couldn’t wait to take a dip — the day he stopped by a senior water aerobics class was in the pool, but that didn’t stop him from jumping in.
Zach graduated from Barrington High School in 2007 and initially attended Norwich University in Vermont. He stayed for two years, played football for the school’s team, and then left. He later enlisted with the Army, and trained to be a medic. “I knew I wanted to do something helping people,” he said.
His plan is to continue with his education while serving and when his commitment to the military is finished, begin a civilian career as a nurse or doctor.
His current tour in Afghanistan will be completed in late November; he plans to take classes full-time shortly thereafter. Until then, however, Zach is making the best of his situation and current career challenges. He said he gets along well with his fellow soldiers and spends most of his free time reading while at the base. He learned that relaxing at the base would be made a lot easier if he had a comfortable chair; he found a nice camping chair online, bought it and had it delivered directly to his base — “It’s a great chair. I don’t let anybody else use it.”
Zach made a special effort to thank all the people who have sent care packages to the troops. He said the snacks are highly coveted and are often used in place of the MREs — meals ready to eat. Zach said food at the base — breakfast and dinner are served — is usually pretty good, but filling the void between those two meals with an MRE is not the first choice for most soldiers. He said snacks are a better option.
Zach added the U.S. military’s work in Afghanistan is often very challenging. He said getting reliable information from Afghan civilians about the Taliban is not easy. He said civilians feel that they will endanger themselves from Taliban retaliation if they help the U.S., so instead do their best to ignore both sides.
“Some try to help, but not many,” he said.
Neighbors hold care package drive
People on Fireside Drive are holding a care package drive to collect items they will send to Zach Silva and other military personnel currently stationed in Afghanistan. The Thurstons, who live at 18 Fireside Drive, are collecting a variety of items up until July 13. Following are some of the items people can drop off at the Thurstons’ home:
- Food: Coffee (ground/filters), hot sauces (fast food packets), beef jerky, pistachios, peanuts, cocoa (with marshmallows), soups, chili, protein bars, candy, gum (hard candy or heat tolerant candy like Tootsie Rolls), drink mixes, dried fruit, tuna in cans or pouches.
- Toiletries: Baby wipes, disposal razors, shave cream, foot powder, baby powder, tooth paste, deodorant. (Travel size items): Eye wash, hand cleanser, combs, brushes, nail files, clippers, tooth brushes, nail files, shoe insoles, Band-Aids, gauze pads, first aid kits, Icy Hot, body wash, liquid soap, facial cleaner, tissues, hand lotion, nasal spray, sun block SPF 45, zinc, vitamin E, aloe, Tylenol, Motrin, Advil, or aspirin, vitamins
- Other: Socks, hand warmers, card and or letters, AA and AAA batteries, CDs, DVDs, pens, pencils, Chapstick, disposable cameras, international phone cards, insect repellent., playing cards.
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