WTU Soldier prepares for life after Army
March 19, 2009
It has been nearly two years since Staff Sgt. Timothy Gillem was injured when an Improvised Explosive Device exploded under the vehicle he was traveling in. The road to recovery has been a long one for the 13-year veteran - a road of physical, emotional and vocational rehabilitation while assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit.
His condition is like a "strange animal," Gillem said. "I get better one day, then on a cold day it bothers me. I wake up and I can feel it. It makes me ache. I hate it."
On April 12, 2007, while stationed in Samarra, Iraq, with the 82nd Airborne Division, Gillem, the infantryman and his team were headed back to their base. While crossing a canal, the IED was detonated underneath them.
"I remember talking to my buddy, then feeling the explosion. The next thing I remember is waking up in Balad (one of the largest American bases in Iraq and home to a level 1 trauma center)," he said.
Others have had to help Gillem fill in the details.
"My buddy lost his right leg below the knee. Later I found out he had recovered his leg, rolled around the outside of the vehicle to my side to get me out. He stayed on top of me, protecting me from enemy fire," Gillem said. "The kid who was in the turret was bleeding from shrapnel that hit his face. He still kept engaging the enemy, even though the vehicle was totally destroyed."
Gillem's injuries included shrapnel lodged in his back and neck, damage to his spinal cord, a dislocated jaw and a cracked eye socket. Initially, he physically recovered from his injuries enough to be able to return to his unit and finish out his tour in Iraq. It wasn't until he returned stateside in late 2007, that Gillem knew he still had a lot of work ahead of him.
"When we got back (to Fort Bragg, N.C.) I went on a jump which I wasn't supposed to. But we hadn't gotten the word that anyone who had been injured wasn't supposed to jump. It really let me know that something wasn't right still," Gillem said.
That's when Gillem was transferred to the Fort Bragg WTU.
"It seemed like every day they were finding something else wrong with me," he recalled. "I ended up getting about 50 to 55 shots in my spinal cord. I can't stand for long periods of time anymore. I have to sit down every few minutes. But I can't complain, at least I'm alive. It could always be worse, I could be (buried) in Arlington."
In November, Gillem was transferred from the WTU at Fort Bragg to the WTU here at Fort Jackson. That's when he said that his emotional and vocational rehabilitation started in earnest.
"It's much more tailored, more personal face-to-face care with the squad leaders and platoon sergeants here," Gillem said. "I think that's because up at Bragg you have about 1,000 Soldiers in the WTU, where as here it's closer to about 80."
He is also closer to his wife and children who are living in Travelers Rest just outside of Greenville.
"That was the hardest part of trying to heal - getting shots every day, then going back to an empty house. It got worse to the point it was affecting my moods," Gillem said. "Now, being only 85 miles away from family, as opposed to 285 miles, has been a good thing for me and my family."
Gillem is in the process of receiving a medical discharge. He is preparing for life out of uniform with the help of the Disabled Transition Assistance Program and the Army Career Alumni Program. He has been going to mock job interviews, learning how to write a resume and learning about career opportunities available to disabled veterans.
Gillem plans to start his own personal security company outside of Greenville. He has a business plan and has been in touch with the Small Business Administration to start the process of applying for a Patriot Loan - a program designed to help veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan start their own business.
"I feel like I still have some skills to offer. If I can't do it in the military, I think I will be able to do it out in the world," Gillem said.
Gillem said he also sees his future enterprise as a way to help Soldiers who find themselves facing the same challenges he has faced.
"I'm hoping through this business that I can help a lot of guys get back on their feet and realize that there is still hope," he said.