2010 Army Times
Winner
SSG Zackary Filip
4-9 CAV, 2BCT, 1 CD, Fort Hood

Medical platoon sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 4th Squadron, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.

He is married and has three sons: Grayson, 6, Gabriel, 3, and Gavin, 3 months.

FORT HOOD, Texas — Staff Sgt. Zackary Filip of the 1st Cavalry Division shoved a tourniquet into the right shoulder pocket of his Army Combat Uniform and made sure all his medics had fully equipped medical packs.

For thousands of other Fort Hood soldiers, June 10 was a day to relax by Belton Lake. The smell of grilled burgers and hot dogs floated in the breeze. Local garage bands finished up their sound checks for the coming outdoor performance.

For Filip, it was just another day to be ready. Seven months earlier, on Nov. 5, he walked up to the outside of Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center and found himself in the middle of the worst-ever mass killing on a U.S. military post.

A gunman, alleged to be Maj. Nidal Hasan, had ended a shooting rampage inside the center and begun targeting soldiers outside.

Filip watched police Sgt. Kimberly Munley and the gunman shoot their pistols at each other until both went down. “At first I thought it was fake, maybe some kind of training I didn’t know about,” Filip said.

Then he smelled Munley’s blood and knew it was real. One of the gunman’s bullets had passed through Munley’s left leg and penetrated her right leg. Filip dragged Munley to the side of a building for cover since he didn’t know if there were other shooters.

Filip was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and had no bandages, no medical supplies to treat gunshot wounds. He pulled off his rigger belt and cinched it around Munley’s right leg as tight as he could for a tourniquet.

Filip went into “medic mode,” working with others to treat 55 other victims shot that day.

“There are hurt soldiers; [you] go to work and try to help as many as you can,” Filip said.

Twelve soldiers and one civilian died of their wounds. Munley and others might have died if Filip hadn’t been on the scene.

Soldiers who have served with Filip say he has a reputation of “being at the wrong place at the right time ... to do some amazing things,” said Staff Sgt. Josiah Coderellis, who served alongside Filip in several gunfights in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province from June 2008 to June 2009.

Filip’s unique character compelled his fellow soldiers to nominate him for the 2010 Army Times Soldier of the Year and convinced Army Times to select him as the winner.

Coderellis said he has seen Filip save lives on several occasions, but the night of Dec. 24, 2008, stands out in his mind. Their platoon was attacked as they were on their way back to Combat Outpost Lowell from a patrol.

He recalled walking on a narrow mountain path when gunfire erupted from the heights.

“We were in a really bad spot to be attacked because we were on the road with mountains on both sides,” he said.

Afghan army soldiers accompanying the American platoon began getting shot. The patrol was spread out, so Filip and Coderellis had to move under enemy fire to get to the wounded, Coderellis said.

The two sprinted “like 500 meters down this road ... and I remember running and hearing a lot of gunfire,” he said.

They spent the next three hours running under gunfire, treating four wounded Afghans in different locations. One had been shot through the shoulder and neck, another was shot through the knee and the third had been hurt from the concussion of an explosion.

At one point, “the Apaches had gone black on ammo, and I’m like, ‘This is not good,’ we were still getting shot at,” Coderellis said.

Another Afghan soldier rolled out into the road. He’d been shot through the left side of the chest, Coderellis said.

Filip treated the wound, and he and Coderellis got him into an Afghan truck and away to safety.

Filip always showed “a lot of genuine concern” for any soldier who needed help, American or Afghan, Coderellis said.

“He didn’t hesitate and say, ‘Who got shot?’ There wasn’t any, ‘Well these aren’t my guys, so I’m not going to go,’ “ Coderellis said.“And there were people that were like, ‘They are not our soldiers.’”

Filip and Coderellis were awarded the Army Commendation Medal with V device for valor for their actions that night.

Filip, 25, now serves as the platoon sergeant for 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment’s medical platoon.

“To be selected for that as a staff sergeant is huge,” Capt. Nathan Jennings, commander of Filip’s unit Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, told Army Times at the June 10 postwide soldier recreation day.“He’s the complete package.”

In coordinating the medical support for the event, Filip ordered enough medical supplies to treat up to 10,000 soldiers for everything from dehydration to trauma wounds.

His orders to his medics were simple: “You will have a tourniquet in your pocket and you will have a fully -stocked aid bag,” he said.

Filip, whose hometown is Denton, Texas, said he never planned on making the Army a career, but his experiences in Afghanistan and in the Fort Hood shooting changed him.

“I have been very blessed; a lot of things could have gone other ways,” he said. “When I first enlisted it was me, me, me — get out of this town, get a bonus, get some college money. ... Why am I here now? I like training and leading soldiers. I love what I do. I think I have the most important job in the Army. What is more important than saving lives?”