In 2007, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Fessenden received a gift from his brother Ernie, back home in Rochester, Minnesota: a radio-controlled model truck with a wireless video camera.
Last week, says Fessenden, who's now stationed in Afghanistan after doing tours in Iraq, the gift came in handy. It saved the lives of six of his comrades, he told ABC News.
Fessenden used the toy truck to run ahead of him and his fellow soldiers to scout for roadside bombs when they were on patrol. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been a major source of U.S. casualties in both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Fessenden said that last week he had loaned the truck to a group of six soldiers who were going out on a patrol. At one point, it got tangled in a trip wire, setting off a bomb. The soldiers, in a Humvee behind the remote-controlled truck, were unhurt. Had it not been for that model truck, it would have been the real one--the Humvee--that set off the explosive, likely meaning the soldiers would have been killed.
Ernie Fessenden got the idea for the gift after his brother told him that the army had little ability to check for IEDs. Ernie said the total cost was about $500. He added that he now plans to send Chris a replacement truck, through a non-profit group that he created.
And he's understandably elated that his gift helped save lives.
"I got an email from [Chris] that said, 'Hey, man, I'm sorry, but the truck is gone,'" Ernie told ABC. "The neat thing is that the guys in the Humvee were all right."
Kevin Guy, a hobby shop owner who helped Ernie rig the truck with the camera, summed up what it meant to hear about how valuable it had been.
"That's just unreal," said Guy. "That's six mothers that six guys are going home to."