The Army specialist talked about the insider bombing attack in Afghanistan that killed six people – including a female intelligence officer from Joint Base Lewis-McChord – that he somehow survived.
“I was very lucky — it was divine intervention at that point,” the Montana National Guardsman said, considering his injuries. “There were people farther away from the blast than I was who didn’t make it. I’ve tried to process that, but it’s tough. It’s not a question that makes sense.
“It really puts into perspective that you don’t know how long you’re going to have,” Beaty said. “I do have bad days where I think about the people we lost.”
It happened Oct. 13 in a remote outpost beyond Kandahar, where a suicide bomber dressed as an Afghan soldier raised a hand and, in the blink of an eye, blew himself up.
While the blast left Beaty and six others badly wounded, some critically, the bomber succeeded in killing a CIA operative, an Army intelligence analyst and four Afghan counterparts.
One of the dead was Spc. Brittany Gordon, a 24-year-old Army intelligence officer assigned to a Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade. She received a fatal wound to the head.
Gordon, the daughter of an assistant police chief in Florida, was on her first and last deployment. She was the first female soldier from the base south of Tacoma to die in combat since August 2010.
Attacks like this one have U.S. soldiers nervous in Afghanistan.
“The insider threat is a big deal over there,” Beaty said. “That’s the biggest thing we have to fight. The Taliban doesn’t wear uniforms. It’s tough – you have to stay on edge, on alert.”
Beaty and his comrades with the Montana National Guard’s 484th Military Police Company arrived in Kyrgyzstan in March before moving on to Kandahar in southeastern Afghanistan. They were quickly assigned to personal security detachments to protect high-ranking U.S. officials – a colonel, in Beaty’s case.
Once on the ground, Beaty and his peers also accompanied CIA operatives and members of the National Directorate of Security, which is Afghanistan’s intelligence service.
“My colonel was unique in that he was ex-Special Forces,” said Beaty. “About once every two weeks, we had a mission where we’d link up with the Special Forces guys and we’d take a helicopter ride. We were on our fourth or fifth trip somewhere when it happened.”
It was early morning when Beaty’s unit touched down in a landing zone 45 minutes outside of Kandahar. The detachment consisted of roughly 24 people, including a dozen soldiers, CIA operatives, Afghan intelligence officers and interpreters.
They began transferring supplies from two helicopters. It was around 9:30 a.m., the temperature already pushing 90 degrees.
Beaty noted an Afghan male approaching from the corner of his eye. The man was later identified as Abdul Wali, a member of the security directorate. He was wearing a military uniform and a winter coat.
“He was in a military uniform, and that’s why he was able to get so close,” Beaty said. “The regulations that prevent us from making a wrong decision and killing innocent people also prevent us from really engaging the bad people.”
The man’s arms were crossed before him. He was 12 feet away, 15 at the most. Beaty saw ammunition pouches strapped to his torso. They were packed with deadly shrapnel and ball bearings.
“As I started to transition my weapon up, he looked at me and blew himself up,” Beaty said. “I remember the concussion. I remember the blast itself. It’s a very surreal moment to see that. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.”
The explosion came with a crack, knocking Beaty sharply to the ground. He caught himself with his left hand and tried to step with his right foot.
His leg collapsed below him.
“I thought at first my foot was gone,” Beaty said. “I looked down and saw the shrapnel had come through my boot.”
Fearing a subsequent attack, Beaty resorted to his training and took a defensive position behind a pile of gear. An Army medic jumped into action, taking stock of the injuries and treating the worst among them.
Beaty bled from his foot, leg, chest, throat and face – injuries that, while severe, did not appear life-threatening. A dozen people were wounded, several in grave condition or already dead.
One CIA officer helped carry the wounded to safety, unaware shrapnel had pierced his back – a wound that would kill him within the hour.
As he recovers back home, Beaty’s commanders have been in touch with him, as have officials from Lewis-McChord, who check in several times a week.
But beyond his physical wounds are the psychological scars he’s working to confront. Beaty said he hasn’t had much time to process events. He has sat with case managers and psychiatrists and wrote in a journal for a time.
“As I went back through the journal and read it, I realized I didn’t write anything good,” he said. “It was real depressing, so I stopped writing in that.”
Back home in Missoula, he did get to reunite with friends at Thanksgiving and attend the big college football rivalry game between Montana and Montana State.
“It’s going to be a good day when I can get back to the gym,” he said.The Missoulian and The News Tribune contributed to this report.