Wounded warriors return to Iraq
June 29, 2009
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - It was the third charge, the third explosion of a roadside bomb that took off his leg. The last time Sgt. Christopher A. Burrell was in Iraq he was pulled from a burning vehicle in Sadr City, a neighborhood in Baghdad. A tourniquet applied by another Soldier saved his life, but a nurse here at the Air Force Theater Hospital had to break the tragic news-his left leg was gone, taken by an explosively formed projectile. Now, almost a year and a half later, and after months of rehabilitation and physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Burrell returned to Iraq with five other amputee combat Veterans as part of Operation Proper Exit. "I don't remember much, but I remember my nurse," Burrell said, remembering the incident, which occurred Dec. 2007. "Shelly. She was an angel, there to comfort me when I was in a difficult spot." A pilot program introduced by the Disabled American Veterans, and sponsored by the Army and the Troops First Foundation USO, Operation Proper Exit allows Soldiers wounded in combat to return to Iraq. The goal of the program is to give these Soldiers an opportunity for closure, and to see the progress made in securing and stabilizing the country, Burrell said. "It kind of helps you heal mentally and emotionally, to close that chapter in your life so you can move on," he said. "The progress that's been made-it shows that we made a sacrifice but it was for a reason." The six amputee combat Veterans, who were accompanied by civilians with the Troops First Foundation, toured the Air Force Theater Hospital here, speaking with medical personnel. Most of the Soldiers received some kind of treatment here before they moved to Germany for further medical care. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal Hogan, a nurse, said he remembered providing medical care for two of the Soldiers himself during a previous deployment in 2007. "It's awesome," he said with a smile, hugging one of his former patients. "To know that people made it-he's alive, walking around. That means a lot to me." Following the hospital tour, the amputee combat Veterans participated in a town hall-style meeting which began with a standing ovation of approximately 200 Soldiers here at a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility. After telling the audience their own personal war stories, the Veterans fielded questions which ranged from how they dealt with physical recovery to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to their long-term goals. Sgt. Robert Brown, who lost his right leg to sniper fire in September 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, said he was training to qualify for the U.S. rowing team at the 2012 London Paralympics games. Toward the end of the meeting, a young Soldier stood up and asked them, with everything they've experienced, if they would be willing to return for another tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. Every one of the amputee combat veterans nodded. "Sure, we'd go back," one of them said. "We're here with you right now, aren't we'"