KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Two Marines and seven
soldiers injured during combat operations traveled to
several locations in Afghanistan, including Kandahar
Airfield and Camp Nathan Smith, to see the progress being
made in the country that changed many of their lives
Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry returns the salute of a Ready First soldier
on February 27, 2013 at Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan. Petry
returned to Afghanistan with eight other wounded warriors to speak
with service members and leave the country on his own terms under
Operation Proper Exit II. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Uriah Walker,
RC(S) Public Affairs)
Prosthetics and scars are physical
reminders of the sacrifices services members make nearly
every day in the ongoing War on Terror. What can't be seen,
are the mental and emotional scars endured by the brutal
lessons of combat that can be as debilitating as a missing
Through Operation Proper Exit, an initiative of
Feherty's Troops First Foundation which provides support for
wounded warriors injured and medically evacuated out of
theater, service members who are capable of returning are
afforded the opportunity to see the progress first hand and
exit the country again on their own terms.
nine service members visiting with OPE II, Marine Corps
Staff Sgt. Glen Silva is the only one on his second trip
with the organization. Silva suffered an above-knee
amputation of his left leg, along with several other
injuries, Oct. 12, 2010, when he stepped on an improvised
explosive device in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Silva describes the event as frustrating, “I started yelling
at my men to set up a perimeter as I tried to get up. I
remember getting mad at myself because I couldn't get to my
feet and I didn't know why.”
That's when one of his
Marines jumped on top of him to keep him from moving, and
the reality of the event started to set in.
started to assess myself and as I looked around I could see
my leg about 20 feet away,” he said. “I closed my eyes for a
moment and told myself to remain calm. I opened my eyes and
calmly told my Marine to start applying tourniquets.”
Silva's recovery at Bethesda National Military Medical
Center wasn't certain at first. His heart stopped on one
occasion, and he recounts the episode by saying, “Kill me or
let me live, I don't want to put my daughter through this.”
The faded silhouette of his daughter at his bedside set
his mind to live.
After numerous surgeries, physical
therapy and being fitted for a prosthetic leg, Silva is
doing everything he can to get the most out of life.
“I live life to the fullest and I make the most of what
I have,” he said. “I still ride my Harley and I still jump
out of airplanes. Every day is a new challenge and I wake up
happy every day.”
For retired U.S. Army Sgt. Brian
Flemming, Kandahar Airfield is a mere 7km from where a
vehicle borne improvised explosive device detonated three
feet from him.
“When I awoke in a ditch on the side
of the road in Kandahar, Afghanistan – burned and bloody –
and thought my life was at its end, I asked myself two
questions,” Flemming says on his website. “What did I do for
others? Did my life matter?”
“That suicide bomber was
the best thing to happen to me,” he continued.
blast left Flemming with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his
hands, neck and face. He spent 14 months at Brooke Army
Medical Center recovering from his physical, emotional and
mental wounds. What he discovered while there is that there
is no such thing as a mass produced solution.
has concluded is that, “Post-traumatic stress is an
individual event, everyone deals with it differently.
Familiarity breeds contentment. Help someone get to a place
where they can discover their own answers.”
statement is what drives Flemming to help other injured
service members every day. He reaches out through his
website and public speaking. According to his website, to
date, he has personally mentored over 1,000 combat veterans
from the War on Terror in the areas of business, marriage
and family, how to effectively battle post-traumatic stress,
faith and resiliency.
Resiliency was a common theme among
all nine wounded warriors on this trip. Regardless of the
severity of their physical injuries, each one repeatedly
echoed how important it was to stay connected and remain
positive always moving forward.
Medal of Honor
recipient U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry spoke about
his injuries; physical, emotional and mental.
“Everyone sees my prosthetic hand, but most don't know that
I was also shot in the leg,” said Petry. “My leg gives me
more problems than my arm.
Coming back here has
really helped me. It's twofold – It helps me and I can take
what I've seen and experienced back and share.”
discussion with Silva about the mental recovery of injured
service members, he stated that staying connected and not
losing a sense of who you are remain the two largest factors
to successfully move forward with recovery.
on to explain the hardest thing about the process is not
having a sense of being.
“Your place at the dinner
table is taken away,” said Silva. “You're treated as a
patient instead of a Marine, soldier or service member. The
doctors would call me ‘Mr. Silva.' One day I looked at one
of them and told them ‘My name is Staff Sgt. Silva.'”
He also offered two pieces of advice when working with
“Support from the unit is vital,
they are your family.
Don't be afraid to approach a
wounded warrior, that's how they learn (to deal with their
injury) and don't treat me like a patient.”
More photos available below
By Army Sgt. Uriah Walker
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