On October 30, 2011, DEA Special Agent Joe Piersante (’91), and his Foreign deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) unit embarked on a mission to Afghanistan to search a series of bazaars.
While attempting to gather information concerning counter-terrorism and narcotics, SA Piersante, along with other international units, fell under heavy Taliban fire. When the units were forced to retreat, Piersante provided cover to ensure safe boarding of all helicopter units. The last of his unit to board, he was struck with an enemy round that pierced his helmet and penetrated through both temples before exiting the opposite side.
The force of the round knocked SA Piersante unconscious. His unit heroically carried his near 350-pound, fully-equipped weight to safety before he was transported by medevac to Kandahar Airfield for life-saving surgery.
His injuries were substantial; a millimeter or less adjustment and Piersante’s injury would have been fatal. He was classified with severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and both eye orbits were destroyed in the blast. His corneas were severely damaged, and his retinas were detached, rendering him blind. He was transported to Germany where doctors performed a craniotomy to reduce the swelling and dangers associated with inter-cranial pressure.
Several days later, Piersante was transported home to U.S. soil and arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Prior to entering surgery, Piersante was met by his then girlfriend Ashley McCuen. Unable to physically see her, he took her hand and conveyed the gravity of his injuries. He wanted to assure her that it was okay for her to move forward in her life without him. Despite this, Ashley resolved to stand by the man she loved through the traumatic injuries, and grueling recovery. He was put in an induced coma to control his brain swelling, during which Ashley made wedding arrangements with the chapel at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. They married November 27, 2011.
Piersante’s medical procedures continued. He underwent a series of operations including the full reconstruction of his frontal bridge using bone harvested from his craniotomy. Ophthalmologists conducted a pioneering endoscopic operation to successfully reattach both of his retinas. Later, surgeons installed a titanium plate in his forehead.
Piersante was relocated to Hines, Illinois, to aid in his rehabilitation and training at Hines Blind Center in July 2012. He expects to be released later this year.
- Bishop Gallagher High School, Detroit, MI ‘87
- Adrian College, Adrian, MI
- Criminal Justice ‘91, NCAA-DIII Football, All-MIAA twice, 1st Team ’90, 2nd Team ‘89
- “Mr. Michigan” Body Building Champion
- Detroit Police Dept. (1993-97)
- DEA - Drug Enforcement Administration (June 1997)
- One of 12 selected for DEA FAST - Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (2010)
- Three Tours
- 1st – Afghanistan (summer 2010)
- 2nd –Honduras (winter/spring 2010-11)
- 3rd – Afghanistan (fall 2011)
About DEA FAST
DEA FAST plan and conduct special enforcement operations; train, mentor, and advise foreign narcotics law enforcement units; collect and assess evidence and intelligence in support of U.S. and bilateral investigations.
DEA FAST missions are considered a combination of military and law enforcement. Agents combine with other agencies in a “commando-style squad” in three mission types: counter terrorism (CT), counter narcotics (CN), and direct action (DA). All missions are extremely dangerous.