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Military

By Army Spc. Paul Holston

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Marine Recalls, Reflects Life-Altering Night
(July 7, 2011)

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Retired 1st Lt. Denis Oliverio is one of seven wounded warriors participating in Operation Proper Exit X, June 25-July 2, 2011 ... which assists them in finding closure they need to help in their healing process. Photo by USMC Sgt. Joseph Vine - June 29, 2011
Retired 1st Lt. Denis Oliverio is one of seven wounded warriors participating in Operation Proper Exit X, June 25-July 2, 2011 ... which assists them in finding closure they need to help in their healing process. Photo by USMC Sgt. Joseph Vine - June 29, 2011
 BAGHDAD, Iraq (6/29/2011) -- Retired 1st Lt. Denis M. Oliverio's life would change forever, Oct. 14, 2005, as an evening tank operation rolled through the streets of Karabilah, Iraq. It would turn into a life or death fight for the U.S. Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Tank Battalion.

Advancing to gunnery sergeant with 16 years of service in the non- commissioned officer corps before becoming a commissioned officer, Oliverio is no stranger to the Corps. With all the experience he accumulated during his 20-year career, Oliverio did not expect to leave the Corps abruptly, he said. Fortunately, Operation Proper Exit gave him the opportunity to come back to Iraq to see the spot where he was injured and share his story with others.

“That night as I was manning my position, nightfall was starting to come,” Oliverio said. “As we went and refilled our tanks with gas,
we got the call that our snipers were under fire. We stopped gassing and headed immediately to their position to help them out.”
“As we started maneuvering to those positions, we had a Marine light-armored vehicle that came upon the scene and like any good unit, they wanted to help, but they came right down the middle between us and the enemy houses we were engaged with,” he said. “I popped up out of the tank a little higher and waved my hands at them frantically, pointing at the houses telling them not to go down there, and it was right about that time when I felt the impact.”

Oliverio said the impact of the sniper shot that hit him was amazing. The force of the impact made him think he got hit by bat, crushing his left arm. It spun him around more than 90 degrees in the turret and he didn't know what happened. He almost went into shock.

“I looked down and realized the damage, that my desert camouflage utility uniform was black with blood; as black as you can imagine,” he said. “It was all over my uniform and I realized that I had been hit.”

His tank crew was hollering at him to get down into the tank, but he was stuck in the opening and wasn't able to move, he said, because he no longer could use his left arm.

The tank's loader, Lance Cpl. Jared Malone, jumped out of the tank into the line of fire and helped Oliverio dislodge his arm and applied a tourniquet.

Once he was moved to safety behind a building, Oliverio was medically evacuated within 20 to 25 minutes after being shot, he said. “I just had to consciously remind myself to breathe. Don't pass out or don't freak out, just breathe,” he said.

He was flown to the Marine base at Al Qa'im, where he was rushed into two consecutive medical operations.

Over the next several months, Oliverio would return to the United States and undergo 12 additional surgeries, as well numerous hours of intensive physical therapy to repair the damage to his arm.
With this life-altering experience, Oliverio uses what he went through to help and give insight to others.

“I almost feel like it's my duty ... I feel with my experience, I can explain to them what I go though, what the average wounded warrior goes through during their recovery,” he said. “I know how rough it was, so it's almost like my calling in life. I've got to put the story out there and let the people know what's going on and how they can help.”

Oliverio chose to come back to Iraq. “I wanted to go see that spot. I wanted to stand there and reflect on it for a minute,” he said. “I wanted to think through the events that happened and relive it, as horrific as it was. Also, just seeing how [Iraq] has changed over the years.”

Oliverio will continue explore Iraq throughout the rest of the week, but his trip so far can be described in two words - amazing and phenomenal, he said.

As an additional benefit, Oliverio was able to be re-united with Malone, now a civilian contractor who works at Forward Operating Base Hammer, as he was able to make a trip to Victory Base Complex to visit his old platoon leader for a night.

“It was really great to see him. He literally saved my life that day,” Oliverio said.

By Army Spc. Paul Holston
U.S. Forces Iraq
Copyright 2011

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