MURRAY — Families on two sides of the world have something to celebrate after a team of U.S. and Afghan soldiers, including a Utah man, came together to rescue a 3-year-old boy from a well in Maiwand province, Afghanistan.
Spc. Thomas Wirthlin, of Murray, and soldiers from Courage Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, were called to help their Afghan allies rescue the boy Sunday, and nothing was going to deter them.
It was like trying to dig through cement, but the soldiers were prepared to work for days, Wirthlin said in a military release.
"It was our pleasure to go out and help the locals face to face," he said. "It is great getting face time this way instead of just asking questions about the Taliban. We are all the same. We all have young nieces or nephews at home the same age as this kid, so it was great to help.”
Wirthlin told family members that nearly 30 U.S. soldiers and Afghan military members worked into the night Sunday, digging for more than six hours before lowering a rope to the frightened toddler, trapped about 30 feet down. The well is located in a dangerous province, requiring some soldiers to provide security while others performed the rescue, a relative reported.
The well was about 20 inches wide at the top and narrowed as it went down to an unknown depth, according to the military report.
They worked through an interpreter, striving to bridge the language barrier between both sets of soldiers, as well as the boy and his father. Through the interpreter, one of the American troops instructed the boy to put the rope on his arm "like a bracelet," and he was hoisted to safety.
After hours of being trapped and the strain of being lifted from the well, the boy was declared unharmed by an Afghan medic.
Withlin called his family after the rescue, recounting the experience and his relief that the boy was safe. His sister, Stephanie Wirthlin, said her brother wanted no credit for the rescue, instead praising his team.
Anyone would have done it, he told them.
"He completely feels like it's just his job," she said. "He has a great team of people with him who all contributed to rescuing that little boy."
By Tuesday morning, the story and photos of the rescue began circulating through social media. Stephanie Wirthlin first saw it posted on the Facebook page for her brother's brigade, realizing immediately it the same rescue.
Commenters on social media thanked the soldiers, offered encouragement and celebrated the positive, successful story that came from an unlikely place — a conflict zone. They called the soldiers heroes, not just for their own families, but for the family of the little boy they saved.
The youngest of four children, Thomas Wirthlin had always been interested in serving in the Army and enlisted three years ago, his sister said. He was married in November, then deployed a month later.
Being an infantryman, Thomas Wirthlin's role is usually very different, Stephanie Wirthlin said.
"This is something, I think, that's rewarding for them, when they can help and feel like they're actually making a difference and it's not just always about the fight that's going on over there," she said.
Thomas Wirthlin is expected to be deployed until this fall. In the meantime, his family is grateful he has phone and Internet access, allowing him to contact them in between missions.
"We just wait to hear from him, and have our phones available 24/7 so that we can make sure to catch his phone calls when he is able to call," Stephanie Wirthlin said.
More than anything, Thomas Wirthlin's family is proud of his service.
"We're extremely proud of him," his sister said. "It's been stressful, but we're extremely proud of the work he's doing over there."