ORLAND, Calif. – On Sept. 20, 2009, Philip Golia was in western Afghanistan -- a long way from his uncle’s ranch in Orland, where he’d learned to ride a horse and become a roping champ on his high school rodeo team.
Golia was deployed in Afghanistan as a sapper with the U.S. Army’s 235th Combat Engineer Company – working to clear improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance from main supply routes.
His group was conducting operations on a particularly “hot” route – one that attracted constant enemy action in Paktika province along the Pakistan border.
Golia told his story from that day: “Early in the patrol, the team detected a fairly large IED, cordoned off the area and disposed of the bomb using C4 plastic explosive. As we continued down the road about 200 yards, our Husky hit another IED, injuring the operator and disabling that vehicle for the remainder of the mission.
“Without the Husky, we pushed forward in our MRAP [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle] with mine rollers. As the lead gun truck, we had driven maybe 800 yards farther when we hit a big pressure-plate bomb -- it cut our truck in half and left us on fire in a large crater.”
All four soldiers in Golia’s truck were injured, but survived the blast. Platoon members from other vehicles in the team secured the area and made the call for an airlift medical evacuation.
After treatment and stabilization, Golia was transferred to a warrior transition unit at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash., to continue treatment, including multiple surgeries.
While at the transition unit, Golia learned that he could report to a federal installation close to his home of record to complete his military service. This led him home to Orland, volunteering at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District’s Black Butte Lake.
“After a year and a half of medical treatment and having been released off active orders, little did I know that Black Butte management would offer me a full-time staff position this past May,” said Golia. “Being offered this job eased my concerns over how I would support my family and still continue my government service.
“Working at Black Butte Lake has been a great transition,” said Golia. “Being Army-structured, it was a little easier to switch back to civilian life and gave me a sense of purpose, while keeping me focused.”
Golia is part of a maintenance crew that cares for park facilities and controls the reservoir level behind Black Butte Dam.
“The love of my wife and the support of staff at Black Butte Lake had a tremendous positive effect in my healing,” said Golia.“There are lots of prior service members on the staff at Black Butte, and that’s been really great.”
“Phil has taught us a lot,” said Mike Doss, Golia’s immediate supervisor on the maintenance crew. “And I guess we’ve taught him a little, too.
“Phil brings youth to the team, he’s got a great sense of humor and he’s always ready to accomplish more,” said Doss.
Golia and his wife, Anntonette, have three children. When he’s not working at the park or being a dad, Golia volunteers as a defensive coach for the Orland High School football team.
Did the experience in Afghanistan change him? Golia says: “Now that I’m back, I’m that much more grateful for a whole lot of things.”
He still stays in touch with members of his Afghanistan route clearance unit. In May, he’ll complete six years of duty with the California National Guard.
“This is a success story, but not just for me,” said Golia. “There are many more of my brothers and sisters in the services who are returning home now and they could benefit from an opportunity like this.”