The blast from a 3,000-pound car bomb at 3:54 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2013, blew a hole in the wall of Forward Operating Base Ghazni, allowing armed insurgents wearing suicide vests to infiltrate the compound.
"Our base got breached," remembers Colton Zumach, who grew up in Cary and Fox River Grove and spent nine months in Afghanistan serving in the U.S. Army. "The attack happened so quick."
Zumach insists that his story pays tribute to the only American killed in that attack -- Army Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, 24, who stepped into the path of an explosion of a suicide bomber's vest to save others and was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military honor.
Wearing a T-shirt, sneakers and combat pants, Zumach had to leap from an 8-foot wall to avoid grenades, mortars and rockets. "My knee was jacked up," says Zumach, who continued to serve in spite of pain and swelling until he returned home in October 2013. Even with surgery, his injured knee kept Zumach from his dream of joining the Special Forces and earned him an honorable medical discharge in 2016. He still receives therapy, and suffers migraines and other issues from his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now the father of 5-year-old Derek, Zumach, 29, who lives in Rolling Meadows, is getting free help for a problem that grew worse in the military, where he "drank way more coffee" and often had days when he didn't even have a moment to brush his teeth. Four discolored front teeth are getting new porcelain crowns, courtesy of dentists Ernie Costello and Jay DeHart and their team at Costello & DeHart Dental Excellence in Arlington Heights. Zumach still has a few appointments to go before he's ready to smile with his new look.
"Nobody makes a bigger sacrifice," Costello says of veterans. "We're always willing to help somebody out."
A couple of years ago, Costello, 45, and DeHart, 36, started a contest on Facebook to provide free dental service to a deserving veteran. People thought it was a wonderful idea, but when no nominations came in, the dentists donated more than $20,000 in dental work to an existing veteran patient. This year, they got five nominations.
"Well, we can't pick just one," says Costello. So the practice provided free dental work -- including crowns, bridgework, implants and dentures -- for all five veterans.
"It felt so good for me to see the transition and success of our first case. It felt selfish because I felt better than (the patient)," DeHart says. "I'm chasing that feeling."
Costello, who in January was one of six dentists who donated 1,000 free dental procedures to needy people in Mexico, says the veterans are so appreciative.
"We've had patients, grown men, in tears," Costello says. "It's great to see that level of gratitude. We enjoy giving back, so we do it."
Zumach helps with the coaching of his son's T-ball team, where the kids notice his teeth. "Every time I'd smile, they'd say, 'Your teeth are dirty,'" Zumach says. He looked into getting crowns but was told that would cost at least $4,000.
"I don't get that much in disability a month, and I've a kid," says Zumach, who recently started working part time for JMC Carper Cleaning/Handyman Services in Fox River Grove. His mother, Kathy, nominated him and explained his story to Costello & DeHart Dental Excellence.
"And these guys came around and said, 'We've got you,'" Zumach says. "I don't think they realize how much they are helping my mental health."