Wounded Soldier happy with Sill WTU
November 6, 2008
Spc. Lane Penn was the gunner on a humvee in the ugly part of Mosul, Iraq, Dec. 8, 2007. Penn, a military policeman, was part of a patrol in an area that he described as a downtown area where bullet-ridden buildings loomed over deserted streets.
"We took small arms fire all day," Penn said, sitting in a classroom in the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Sill. "We were patrolling with a unit to clear a four-block radius."
Penn said the area was a target for insurgents because two logistic supply routes intersected near there. The patrol went in expecting trouble and found it, he said.
"Earlier that day, a guy fired an RPG at us, and it went over our truck and blew up about 300 meters in front of us," Penn said. "We went out at 8:30 (a.m.) and about 12:30 was when I got hit. A guy shot an RPG through the back of the truck, through the tailgate."
Penn explained that when the RPG hit and exploded on the tailgate, it filled the truck cab with smoke, and a slug of melted copper from the RPG shot into the cab. That slug hit Penn's calf muscle. It left bits of copper scattered in his calf and thigh.
"Because of the smoke, we couldn't see inside the truck, so we were all calling out to make sure we were all still alive," Penn said. "We figured that out and when the smoke cleared I saw my leg and I thought I was going to lose my leg ... I started yelling, 'I'm hit! I'm hit! Something hit my leg. There were holes all over my leg, but a big one [on the calf] and blood everywhere."
Penn said most of the RPG slug lodged in a golf ball-sized hole in his calf, but he said it could have been worse.
"I'm just lucky it went in there and didn't hit any main arteries," he said.
The driver, Spc. Joe Jundt, who was an emergency medical technician as a civilian, stopped the vehicle and turned around give him first aid, Penn said. He said Jundt cut his pant leg and started to apply a tourniquet before the medic arrived and took over.
The medic, Penn knows her only as Pfc. Metcalf, put a tourniquet on his right leg, started an IV and gave him morphine to deaden the pain. Her performance impressed Penn.
"That was her first combat, outside-the-wire experience like that," Penn said. "She was running down the street to my truck while she was being fired at. She and Jundt saved my life that day. Jundt drove six miles to the hospital in like seven minutes. He was flying."
While Metcalf monitored his condition, Penn stayed busy.
"I stayed at my gun while the medic jumped in the truck and while she worked on my leg," Penn said. He said he stayed at his .50 caliber machine gun until they got him to the military hospital nearby.
"Where we were at I couldn't get off the gun," Penn said. "You can't leave a weapon out of commission when you're taking fire."
Penn said the investigators told him that if his leg didn't take the slug, it would have hit the driver, his best friend, in the head.
Penn smiled and added, "It wasn't anything I did on purpose, it was just something that happened. He caught two fragments in his arm; that was it."
After he got to the military hospital, Penn said he still remembers that trauma. "I was awake while they were digging in my leg trying to get stuff out. I was still conscious."
And then ...
After his leg was stabilized and he was able to travel, Penn got 30 days of convalescent leave before reporting back to his unit's rear detachment. Penn was stationed in Hawaii when he deployed, so he was assigned to the WTU there. He asked to move to Fort Sill's Warrior Transition Unit because it's close to his hometown of Guthrie, Okla., and his fiancAfA, Blair. He arrived at Fort Sill in May. He had his last leg surgery June 11.
Now he's in physical therapy. When asked to compare WTUs, Penn said that might not be fair.
"Because I'm so close to home, and I have a better attitude because of that, I don't think it's fair to compare this to Hawaii." He pointed out that, "The squad leaders pay attention to you, know what's going on and take care of you. The platoon sergeants and doctors take care of you. If you have a complaint, say it and they'll do their best to fix it."
Going home for weekends isn't Penn's only activity. Making his medical appointments keeps him busy. "I've got three appointments today," he added with a grin.
While some Soldiers work to get healthy enough to return to duty, Penn opted for a medical discharge.
"I'm getting out," Penn said. "I've put my family through a lot. I've got a permanent profile not to run, so I can't stick with my job. I don't think I'd be happy reclassifying to another job, so I'm ready to get out and have a normal life."
Penn wants to move in a different direction. He wants to own his own company. He wants to build. He has experience working with heating and air conditioning, so he hopes to get formal training to make that his career.
More than scars
"I've still got over 30 bits of shrapnel in my leg," Penn said.
Unfortunately for Penn, he might become a walking illustration of why wounded warriors should receive Veterans Administration payments. Early last week, he had no pain and was walking normally. On Wednesday, his leg swelled up and he was treated with antibiotics. When he demonstrated how much his calf swelled up, it looked like he was doing a Subway "$5 foot long" commercial. The swelling went down, but now he reports a sharp pain in the back of his calf.
"I've got to go in and get a CAT scan to make sure that my shrapnel didn't slip or anything," Penn said with a scowl.
The MP was obviously concerned about his leg and health. Not only can those pieces of shrapnel affect Penn's health for years, but the RPG explosion might be affecting Penn. He reported that he's having trouble remembering appointments, which could indicate brain trauma. He said he'll undergo testing for that soon.
"The doctors at Fort Sill are good and taking good care of me," Penn added. "My doctor, Capt. Phillips, is doing a good job."