The last time Michael Trost saw Alexander Peci, the two men were lying face-down in the streets of a tiny Afghani village, wondering aloud over the din of gunfire whether their time on earth had just come to a violent end.
Their reunion Monday evening at McGhee Tyson Airport was a much happier event, as Blount County’s Trost greeted former comrade-at-arms Peci for the first time since that awful day in February of 2012.
“The last time I saw him, we were laying on the battlefield,” Trost said, grinning. “We looked at each other, and we didn’t know if we’d make it.
“Seeing him now, it’s like a miracle. There’s a bond soldiers have when they’re stationed together in a situation like that. You come to rely on each other. Even when you don’t speak the same language.”
Trost’s story may be familiar to Blount Countians. He was the subject of some attention when, in 2012, he and a handful of other soldiers stationed in Afghanistan were ambushed by a disgruntled member of the Afghan National Police.
The attack took off half of Trost’s right hand, and left him with debilitating injuries in his lower extremities. It took some three months of recovery in military hospitals before Trost was able to return to Blount County.
As he, Peci, and another Albanian officer stood outside their vehicles, talking, in the little village of Robat, Trost said he heard a shot ring out.
“That first shot came over and laid my hand out, split it down the middle,” Trost said, holding up a right hand now bereft of thumb and index finger.
As he looked aghast at his bloodied hand, Trost said more machine gun fire came in from the rear, striking him in the buttocks and both legs. He said he could tell from the way the bullets struck another Albanian officer in their company that the man had been fatally wounded. Trost and Peci, though, in spite of serious injuries, were filled with enough adrenaline to make a dash for shelter.
“We ran as fast as we could, but we ran out of gas before we could get there,” he said. “Then we were laying down looking at each other. He’d been shot in the face, and he was gurgling to me, ‘Are you all right?’”
When Peci finally walked through the gate at McGhee Tyson a little after 8 p.m. Monday, a handsome fellow in his early 30s in a brown bomber jacket and the remnants of a military-issue high-and-tight haircut, he looked little the worse for wear.
Nonetheless, speaking through an interpreter, Peci related that his own injuries took four months of hospital convalescence. His face bears a relatively unobtrusive brown scar beneath his left eye, the spot where the machine gun bullet hit, passing through his face and exiting beneath the lower right side of his jaw.
Peci said he “felt very happy to be here … with Michael. It was a very bad situation (when they were last together), and we were both badly wounded.”
Trost said: “He’s someone I consider closer than a brother, I would trust him with my life.”