NEW KABUL COMPOUND, Afghanistan – Though the air was frigid,
and a fresh dusting of snow covered the ground, the crowd of
U.S. military personnel, civilian contractors and members of
the NATO Alliance waited in excited anticipation. They
erupted with applause, cheering and clapping as one-by-one,
five wounded heroes (soldiers), guests of Operation Proper
Exit, and their mentor arrived at the New Kabul Compound,
March 15, 2014.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, U.S. Forces
Afghanistan, deputy commander for support; Brig. Gen. Wayne
Eyre, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan; Rear Adm. Althea
H. Coetzee, director of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, operational
Contracts; Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, 1st Theater Sustainment
Command, deputy commander; and Sgt. Maj. Gerald Green, NATO
Training Mission - Afghanistan, stood at the head of the
walkway to greet the honored soldiers. After a brief
introduction, the wounded soldiers walked a heroes walk up
the NKC sidewalk, among a throng of awestruck well-wishers,
they shook hands with as many as they possibly could before
entering the headquarters building.
The soldiers are
honored guests and participating members of
Operation Proper Exit, a program designed to recognize
the sacrifice of wounded U.S. warriors.
Left to Right, Top Row; Rick
Kell, Troops First Foundation escort, Command Sgt. Maj. Glen Vela,
military mentor, Operation Proper Exit Warriors; Sgt. Noah Galloway,
Sgt. Daniel Harrison, Capt. Matt Anderson, Spc. Andrew Miller,
Richard Emberlin Troops First Foundation escort. Bottom Row;
Operation Proper Exit Warrior, Sgt. Ryan McIntosh, and Sgt. Maj.
Alan Gibson, military escort, pose for a group event took place at
the New Kabul Compound, March 15, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st
Class Timothy Lawn)
Colt, minced no words about his feelings, and said it best
when he addressed the soldiers.
“Men of action,...
you've made a huge difference,” Colt said.
Proper Exit's Facebook page, states the program was founded
in 2009, it was an off-shoot of another non-profit veterans
program titled, Troops First Foundation, founded in August
2008 by two college basketball coaches Rick Kell and David
Feherty. Their idea for helping troops germinated after an
initial visit to troops in the Middle-East in the summer of
2005 and subsequent visits and interaction with wounded
soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
According to the Facebook page, Operation Proper Exit is for
those Wounded Warriors who are making positive gains in
their own recovery, they are hand selected and invited to
return to the battlefield with fellow wounded soldiers to
observe the enduring legacy of their sacrifice and to be
offered an opportunity to get a sense of closure to their
The Operation Proper Exit visit is part of a
select whirlwind tour of some of Afghanistan's forward
operating bases beginning March 12, and lasting several
The New Kabul Compound stop-over is part of the
culmination of a visit where the soldier's are hosted by the
International NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, United
States Forces – Afghanistan, and the International Security
Assistance Force leadership, soldiers and civilians.
Once inside USFOR-A headquarters the soldiers enjoyed
breakfast with selected soldiers from NMT-A, USFOR-A, and
ISAF. There the soldiers had a chance to tell war stories
and meet brothers-in-arms and to freely discuss their
feelings, thoughts and opinions as to why they were there.
After breakfast they were whisked up to the United
States Forces – Afghanistan commander's conference room
where they received a thorough brief and a Q and A on
Afghanistan's progress, the mission and how they as
soldiers, contributed to the success of war effort.
During the brief they learned about the status of the
mission, U.S. Forces and the state of the Afghan forces, and
how, Afghans were taking responsibility for the security of
One of the soldiers, Sgt. Ryan McIntosh
felt he needed to know whether it was worth it or not.
McIntosh was wounded in 2010. McIntosh at the time was
assigned to 4th ID, 1st Brigade, 1/66 AR. He described his
life-changing event in animated detail; on the day it
happened his unit was conducting what he described as a
normal foot patrol, they were about 100 meters from being
back in base and he had to jump a small canal, as he jumped,
he landed on a mine, he bluntly said that he had been in the
Army seven whole months.
When asked why he came back?
McIntosh replied, “A huge plus to come back with the guys I
have been with. You really don't hear a lot about it (the
war), back home... you kind of wonder, was it worth it,” he
For McIntosh, he felt he needed to know whether
he made a difference...
“What I did was help them
(Afghans) realize that they needed to be the driving force
and to drive on, continue the mission,” said McIntosh.
Col. Steven Merkel, the Chief of Staff for the NATO
training mission, described his feelings when speaking about
the Operation Proper Exit soldiers and mission.
a great thing it is, to be able to spend time with fellow
brothers in arms... who I believe faced a difficult decision
to come back to Afghanistan,” Merkel said. He added, “It's
so incredibly special to hear their stories, to hear them
talk about their families and the brothers they left
Merkel summed it up by saying that it was
days like today that remind him of why soldiers sacrifice,
for Merkel, it's because soldiers believe in the cause.
As the brief concluded, Colt presented each soldier with
a flag that had flown over NKC and a certificate signed by
him as a parting thanks for everything they have done and
for the continued success of their recovery.
More photos available below
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Lawn
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