Wounded Warrior stands to welcome comrades
July 16, 2009
- Wounded Warrior
- 549th MP
<b> FORT STEWART, GA-- </b> Sergeant Garry Thompson had been waiting on the day and the opportunity to welcome his comrades home after their 15-month deployment to Afghanistan. Paralyzed from the knees down, he wheeled himself onto the tarmac of Truscott Air Terminal to the foot of the stairs of the commercial aircraft on Sunday that was returning the 155 Soldiers of the 549th Military Police Co., 385th Military Police Bn., to Fort Stewart.
As the door opened, Sgt. Thompson pushed his wheelchair back and stood proud and erect with the help of his walker. He looked toward the stairs and smiled broadly.
"It's all about them," he said as the Soldiers descended the stairs. He shook their hands enthusiastically and embraced those who were his closest friends.
It was the first time he had seen members of his unit since May 28, 2008, when he was critically injured in an attack on their camp, located south of Forward Operating Base Salerno. A suicide bomber charged the camp's gate in a vehicle, blowing it up, while other insurgents attacked with grenades and small arms fire. As he took cover, Sgt. Thompson was hit. Two bullets in his back caused the paralysis; his right index finger was lost in the blast.
"He's been emotional and nervous about this reunion today," said his wife Jennifer, who accompanied him to Hunter Army Airfield with their two sons and their pet terrier and on to Fort Stewart at the company's welcome home ceremony.
"He's apprehensive about seeing his gunner," she said before the tarmac reunion, adding that Spc. Ben Ashmead was there during the attack fighting off insurgents. "Garry knows he's going to be emotional."
Sergeant Thompson said Spc. Ashmead was there when it happened, "But he never saw me afterwards, only a trail of my blood."
Sgt. Thompson embraced Ashmead and other members of his company outside and inside Truscott Air Terminal throughout the morning. The MPs seemed exuberant to reunite with Sgt. Thompson and a steady pool of Soldiers formed around him once their weapons were cleared.
"Believe it or not, you were there with us every day," said Sgt. 1st Class Acevedo Hermes, as he pointed to his heart.
"I was excited to see Sgt. Thompson in person," said Capt. Bryant Vanriper, the 549th MP commander during Sgt. Thompson's deployment who stayed in touch with his progress through e-mails to Sgt. Thompson and Jennifer.
Jennifer said her husband feels the same affection for members of the company.
"Garry loves the military and would do anything for it," she said. "Sure, he's dealt with frustration, but he remains positive and upbeat. People ask me all the time if he's 'for real' and I have to say yes. He's made a lot of progress with recovery and he is determined to walk. Doctors say the sky's the limit."
Sergeant Thompson claims that progress would not be possible without the support and care from Jennifer during his recuperation. She helped him adjust to an entirely different life with additional challenges and changes in the future.
"She's my Rock of the Marne," he said.
"This was my final act in uniform," Sgt. Thompson said about his career that ends in retirement, July 29. "It couldn't have been any better. I was overwhelmed when they landed today and felt an utter sense of relief, even though two of my guys didn't make it."
Before departing Truscott Air Terminal for Fort Stewart commanders of the 549th MP Co. showed their affection and respect for Sgt. Thompson. As the MPs stood at attention, Sgt. Thompson was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for personifying Warrior Ethos - to never quit, to never accept defeat, and to get up daily with a smile on his face.
"I'm going to miss ya'll," he told the Soldiers gathered for the presentation. "Be safe, hooah!"