Detective nearly lost his life in Afghanistan

As he lay on the ground in Afghanistan in 2012 dazed and foggy from the concussive blast that slammed into him like a Mike Tyson right hook, throwing him backward several feet, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Dargin wanted nothing more than to return to the mission.

Dargin, a soldier in the Louisiana National Guard, ordered his fellow soldiers not to call in a helicopter to airlift him for medical care. The mission came first for the Baton Rouge police homicide detective, and it wasn’t until much later — after returning home from Afghanistan — that he realized the extent of his injuries from that explosion and another that occurred a month earlier.

He realized, he said, that he was lucky to be alive.

“The second one was pretty startling,” said Dargin, a 14-year veteran of the Baton Rouge Police Department and 24-year veteran of the National Guard . “That was definitely an eye-opener.”

After going through his first deployment in 2002-2003 relatively unscathed, Dargin, 43, said he wasn’t as lucky during his second tour of duty from September 2012 to May 2013.

During that deployment, he sustained two concussions, a bulging disk in his back that he still deals with every day, a torn meniscus in his left knee along with several cuts, scrapes and bruises from the two explosions.

“I had the mindset I was going to go through the deployment and not get hit,” he said. “I was really observant. I really paid attention when we were on routes, but it got to the point where some of (the roadside bombs) were undetectable. They got so good at hiding them.”

Dargin underwent knee surgery and then rehabilitation through the Wounded Warrior Program upon his return to the States, but he never wavered in his decision to return to the Police Department.

“I actually love what I do,” he said of catching killers.

Fellow detectives, he said, such as Lt. John Norwood, kept his spirits up with emails and well-wishes while in Afghanistan and during his recovery.

“It was real helpful to know that I was being supported by the guys I work with back home,” he said.

Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., said he keeps tabs on all his officers serving in the military and is honored to have Dargin working in his department.

“I think the fact that he serves in the military in a reserve basis speaks volumes to his character and service,” Dabadie said.

The fact that Dargin served while following his dream of becoming a police officer is something Dabadie said he admires as well as that Dargin “continues to fight and he continues to be a reservist” despite being injured in his second tour.

As a detective, Dargin has been involved in the high-profile investigations that led to the arrests of Percy Cage, Aramis Jackson and Darrell Garner in the last several years.

Cage was sentenced to life in prison as a habitual offender in 2011 and could still face charges for the 2009 shooting death of his pregnant girlfriend and her teenage brother and the 2008 shooting and wounding of a former girlfriend.

Jackson faces the death penalty if convicted in the home invasion-slaying of a single mother and the wounding of her daughter in Beauregard Town in 2010.

Garner was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2011 after he pleaded guilty to shooting his estranged wife and her boyfriend at Baton Rouge General Medical Center in 2010.

Dargin said he realizes he is fortunate to be able to continue his career as a police officer, something a few of his fellow soldiers in the Wounded Warrior program cannot do because of the seriousness of their injuries.

“You realize how lucky you are, actually how blessed I was to come through, because some of those guys what they went through, it was similar,” he said of the guys he met in Wounded Warrior who lost limbs in similar explosions.

The first explosion occurred three days into the deployment when Dargin, a platoon sergeant in the National Guard’s 926th Engineer Company, accompanied the company’s senior leadership on a route-clearing mission with the outgoing unit.

When his Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle, known as a MRAP, which was bringing up the rear of the convoy, rolled on top of a roadside bomb, it exploded.

“Once my vehicle got there, the guy dialed the signal and blew my vehicle up,” he said.

The explosion rocked the truck, lifting the 18-ton vehicle into the air with an estimated 100 pounds of explosives in the bomb, though Dargin said he is not sure how high the truck was thrown.

He injured his knee and sustained his first concussion in the explosion that also injured a gunner and an Afghan interpreter.

He said the MRAP saved his life and was the difference between suffering a few injuries or losing limbs.

Dargin spent two weeks recovering — at both Forward Operating Base Sharana, which had a hospital, and Forward Operating Base Lightning in Ghazni Province, where his unit was stationed — before he rejoined his unit, not knowing that in two weeks, he would be caught in another explosion.

It was a November day when members of Dargin’s unit were given a last-minute mission to clear a commonly used route of explosive devices.

The convoy included a Buffalo, a large mine-clearing machine, that could not get across a bridge. The driver tried to cross the ravine under the bridge and got stuck.

Dargin jumped out of his MRAP to see what happened.

“When (the driver of the Buffalo) was trying to maneuver, he hit a mine and I think I was approximately 50 feet away from him when he hit it,” Dargin said.

In that explosion he received another concussion as well as an injury to his back.

That was the explosion that really shook Dargin, he said, and made him realize what was important to him.

Now, he said he spends more time with his family, passing on the extra duty assignments he used to accept.

“I go home and spend whatever time I can with my kids,” he said. He is married to Wendy Dargin and has four children — Jordan, 8; Jaela, 11; Kalle, 15; and Brianna, 22.

He also developed a greater appreciation of what he has after seeing the way many Afghan families live.

Most of the homes that the Afghans lived in were mud shacks, Dargin said.

“When you would go in them, the mattresses were mud built up,” he said.

“Every chance we got, I would get my guys — it was one of the things the military was against — but we tried to feed them and give them whatever (food) we had leftover to the families, at least the ones with the kids,” Dargin said.

It gave (the soldiers) a good feeling when they were able to help with that,” he added. “That part, I don’t regret.”