Wounded Warriors Return To Iraq, Find Closure
(June 19, 2010)
Retired Staff Sgt. Chris Bain (center) touches the ground near Gunner Gate on Camp Taji, Iraq, where he was ambushed April 8, 2004. Bain and 11 other wounded warriors visited Camp Taji, June 13, as part of Operation Proper Exit VII.
BAGHDAD (ANS, June 15, 2010) -- When Staff Sgt. Christopher
Bain was ambushed in Iraq April 8, 2004, he died - for 10
minutes. Fortunately, he received four blood transfusions
from Iraqi soldiers and survived, but did not escape facing
years of torment.
Bain walked out on his first medical board. With war wounds
resulting in the loss of the use of his left hand and
minimal use of his right, Bain felt he deserved more - at
least more than the 30 percent disability the medical board
Bain spent three years in care, and like many wounded combat
veterans, battled with the pervasive terror called memory.
But Bain is now one step closer to healing. A recent trip to
Iraq with a program called Operation Proper Exit brought
Bain back to the place where six years earlier the blast of
a mortar tossed him like a rag doll yards away from his
buddies. The program, which is designed to offer wounded
warriors a sense of closure from the war, takes them to ground-zero
of their pain. And that's where Bain knelt June 13, digging a knife
into the spot where the mortar landed.
On Taji, the veterans were hosted by the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st
Infantry Division, a unit that among other things, flies the type of medevac
aircraft that evacuated many of the wounded Soldiers. CAB Soldiers led the
wounded warriors on a tour of the brigade; many of the wounded warriors were
unconscious during their first encounter with a medevac helicopter, and do
not remember it.|
"So this is what those things look like," remarked a veteran.
The wounded warriors toured Taji, making an emotional stop at Gunner Gate,
the spot where Bain was injured. There, they followed Bain as he re-lived
that afternoon six years ago.
When the wounded warriors arrived at the gate, it took a minute for the
emotions to sink in. They joked with each other like any Soldiers would,
often making light of their handicaps.
Bain stood apart from the rest of the group. Leaning with his good hand on a
tree, he looked toward the gate. After a few minutes, Bain found the spot
where he thinks the mortar landed. He took a knee and asked his buddies for
The mood had shifted from a seemingly incongruous cheer to sympathy, and as
Bain used the knife to scrape dirt from the ground, another wounded warrior
collected it in a small plastic bag.
"I came here to get closure - to feel the dirt - to walk on the ground that
I couldn't walk away from before," said Bain.
Operation Proper Exit is a program of the Troops First Foundation, a
non-profit organization founded in 2008 by Rick Kell and David Feherty. Bain
and 11 others are participating in the program's seventh tour and will bring
the total number of involved veterans to 50.
"They want to come back and see that their sacrifice is meaningful," said
Kell, the executive director of the Troops First Foundation.
After visiting Gunner Gate, Bain talked to Soldiers during a town-hall-style
Bain left Iraq in 2004. Since then the number of casualties has greatly
decreased. In 2004, 4,506 U.S. Soldiers were wounded in action. Halfway
through the calendar year of 2010, the number of troops wounded in action is
a mere 221.
Bain also described to the Soldiers the purpose of Operation Proper Exit.
"I didn't get to go home and visit my family," he said. "I woke up in a
hospital room. Then I spent three years there. Now I get to return the right
Bain was medically retired during his sixteenth year of service, and he is
now a motivational speaker and certified mentor for the Wounded Warrior
"I don't need a uniform to serve," Bain told Soldiers on Taji. "I can still
serve all of you."
Article and photo by Army Spc. Roland Hale
Army News Service
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