Private First Class Derek T. McConnell of North Caldwell, who sustained life-altering injuries as a result of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last month, is in unstable condition Tuesday, the day the first donation was made to a fund that has been established to help the wounded soldier and his family.
McConnell, 21, lost both his legs and suffered fractures to his right arm and skull as well as blast wounds on July 23, 2011, while patrolling in the Zahri District in Kandahar.
According to the U.S. Military, which will award him with The Bronze Star Medal With Valor Device, the military's fourth highest award of valor, McConnell and fellow soldiers were brought in to secure an area where members of their platoon had been wounded after striking a pressure-plate improvised explosive device (PPIED).
McConnell, who found himself in a "small minefield," volunteered to lead his fellow soldiers and as a result stepped on a PPIED and was knocked down. After regaining consciousness, he set out to continue his mission when he stepped on a second PPIED located only three feet away from the first. McConnell was immediately rendered a category A casualty, double amputee, losing his left leg and his right leg from the knee.
McConnell is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where his mother, Siobhan Fuller, is at his side. Fuller, who was unavailable for comment, has been keeping a journal of her son's condition at www.caringbridge.org.
McConnell grew up on Maywood Court in North Caldwell with his four siblings, Michael-22, Kellina-17, Ryan-17 and Sean-14.
He graduated from West Essex High School in 2008 and entered the U.S. Army in January 2009. After finishing Airborne training, he was assigned to Catamount, B Co., 2-87 at Fort Drum.
When McConnell was deployed in March of 2011 and was shipped to Afghanistan, “He was upbeat and ready to serve his country,” his mother wrote on the Caringbridge.org blog.
North Caldwell Police Chief Mark Deuer said Tuesday that he knew McConnell, who dreamed of being a police officer or FBI agent.
“I remember him as a kid,” Deuer said. “He went to and he would walk home and stop in and visit us.”
Deuer said he would get a soda at the station and chat with members of the department.
According to the citation to accompany the Bronze Star Medal, “PFC McConnell’s valorous actions, selfless service and complete disregard for his personal safety during multiple PPIED strikes on July 23, 2011 were quintessential in securing the Medevac of a wounded soldier, and ensuring the securing of the platoon before becoming a casualty himself.”
The citation further reads, “His actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect distinct credit upon himself, 3rd Platoon (Wolverines), Bravo Company (Blackhawks), 2-87th-Infantry Regiment (Catamounts), 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Spartans), and the United States Army.”
A Facebook page, “ Prayers for Derek McConnell,” is being followed by more than 2,300 friends and family members who are leaving messages of comfort and support.
Deuer said money collected by the Friends of Derek McConnell fund will be used to help pay for the family’s transportation to and from the hospital, as well as any other unforeseen costs. Contributions may be mailed to Friends of Derek McConnell, P.O. Box 1811, West Caldwell, NJ 07007-1811.