Tragedy inspires WTU Soldier, wife to serve
October 31, 2008
For most people, "making good out of bad" is easier said than done. One Fort Jackson family that was struck hard by fate epitomizes the idea and hopes to inspire others with their story.
Staff Sgt. Raymond Long served as a technical rescuer with the Military District of Washington Engineer Company when the Pentagon was struck during the 9/11 attacks. His unit was involved in the rescue operations, pulling wounded people from the rubble and recovering the bodies of those lost. Nearly three years later, Long was deployed to Iraq and found himself on the other end of a similar situation.
Long was six months into his deployment with the 84th Engineer Battalion when a mortar attack hit the Logistics Support Area in Balad, where he was stationed. Three Soldiers, including two who stood next to Long, were killed in the attack and 25 others were wounded. Long was knocked unconscious by the blast and was hit by shrapnel pieces. He received emergency surgery in Balad, was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and finally came back to the United States to receive treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the grade 3 liver laceration he sustained in the attack.
"We noticed that something wasn't right with some of the stuff that he was doing," recalled Meaghan Long, his wife of 14 years. "His hand crossed over, which means he couldn't tell his left from his right."
The doctors initially thought Long had suffered a concussion and assured him that he would recover in time.
After his discharge from the hospital, he rejoined his unit at their home station in Hawaii and was cleared to deploy again within six months.
"He kept having symptoms when we were in Hawaii," Meaghan said. "But, he said he was fine to deploy again."
Long completed a second tour of duty in Iraq, but his wife knew something was wrong with him when he returned.
"He deployed again and came back and he was really bad," Meaghan said. He went through Phase I BNCOC (Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course) and tried to take an open-book test and barely passed, because he wasn't comprehending what he was reading. He was just really scared about that. It took a toll on him."
Things got worse when orders came for the family to move to Fort Jackson, where Long was going to become a drill sergeant.
"It was about a month into being here," Long explained. "I started having headaches, dizziness - all kind of other physical symptoms."
He was admitted to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Augusta and ultimately wound up at the Shepherd Center Catastrophic Care Hospital in Atlanta, where he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury -- a result of the blast he endured during his first deployment.
The diagnosis explained a lot of the symptoms that Long had experienced through the years.
"It's been very hard for people to say, 'Yes, it's traumatic brain injury,' or, 'Yes, it's PTSD.' They never wanted to say, 'Yes, that's what it is,' but the Shepherd Center reaffirmed it," Meaghan said. "We're glad for that. It's a good validation for him that he's not crazy."
Long received four weeks of inpatient treatment at the Atlanta hospital and continues to rehabilitate by undergoing speech therapy and vision therapy while assigned to the Fort Jackson Warrior Transition Unit.
Long is non-deployable because of his injuries, but hanging up his Army boots is not an option for him.
"I feel like my mission's not done yet," he said. "I'm not done serving my country yet. I came here to be a drill sergeant, which was going to, in turn, help out these young Soldiers, prepare them. Because I know where they're going."
Long recently appeared before the medical reclassification board and is awaiting the outcome of the proceeding, which will determine his new military occupational specialty.
He hopes to be able to continue to work with wounded warriors -- a goal shared by his wife, who was inspired by the family's experiences to help others.
"It's been a really long process for him with his injuries. And we've met a lot of fantastic people along the way and we've seen a lot of bad stuff that happened," Meaghan said. "That has inspired me to become a nurse. I've always wanted to help people, but I just wasn't quite sure what that field was going to be, but this definitely cemented it for me."
The former stay-at-home mom is attending Midlands Technical College and is maintaining a 3.8 grade point average. She is considering joining the Army as a nurse, because her goal is to help injured Soldiers in their healing process.
"I know for sure I'm going to work with wounded warriors and their families," she said.
For now, while Meaghan is focusing on her studies, Long is concentrating on his recovery.
"Each week, it's been getting better," he said. "Some weeks are good and other weeks you wake up and you're dizzy again, but that's just part of the brain injury."