• Sgt. Robert H. Brown recieves a plaque from Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdul Rahman, 10th Brigade, 3rd Iraq Army Division at Foward Operating Base Sykes, Oct. 12.  Rahman told the six Soldiers from Operation Proper Exit, "your names will always be in our memory, not just on these papers. You have shed blood with us, for that we are thankful."

    Operation Proper Exit

    Sgt. Robert H. Brown recieves a plaque from Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdul Rahman, 10th Brigade, 3rd Iraq Army Division at Foward Operating Base Sykes, Oct. 12. Rahman told the six Soldiers from Operation Proper Exit, "your names will always be in our memory...

  • Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson tests out the newest scopes that 10th Mountain Division Soldiers have at Contingency Operating Base Carver, outside Baghdad, Dec. 30. Olson took part in Operation Proper Exit in October and has returned with four other wounded warriors to serve as their mentor and source of support during the trip. Olson was injured in 2003 by a rocket propelled grenade and lost his entire right leg.

    Operation Proper Exit

    Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson tests out the newest scopes that 10th Mountain Division Soldiers have at Contingency Operating Base Carver, outside Baghdad, Dec. 30. Olson took part in Operation Proper Exit in October and has returned with four other...

  • Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz (second from right) stands with (from left to right) 1st Sgt. Chris McMillian, 1st Sgt. Rich Moore and 1st Sgt. Steve Plimpton, all of 10th Mountain Division, Dec. 30, at Contingency Operating Base Carver outside of Baghdad. Schlitz was serving with all three men when he was wounded in 2006, and made sure that he was able to see his Soldiers as part of Operation Proper Exit.

    Operation Proper Exit

    Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz (second from right) stands with (from left to right) 1st Sgt. Chris McMillian, 1st Sgt. Rich Moore and 1st Sgt. Steve Plimpton, all of 10th Mountain Division, Dec. 30, at Contingency Operating Base Carver outside of Baghdad...

  • Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz listens to a brief about the newest Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle technology Dec. 29 at Camp Korean Village, Iraq. Schlitz participated in Operation Proper Exit III in an effort to gain psychological closure after sustaining third degree burns to 85 percent of his body after being struck by an IED in 2007. Schlitz will return to Iraq in the upcoming weeks for the fourth installment of OPE, this time as a mentor to other wounded warriors.

    Operation Proper Exit

    Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz listens to a brief about the newest Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle technology Dec. 29 at Camp Korean Village, Iraq. Schlitz participated in Operation Proper Exit III in an effort to gain psychological closure after...

Operation Proper Exit made its third successful trip to Iraq and back and is gearing up to return a fourth time with a new group of injured veterans, along with one Soldier who participated in the most recent trip, Dec. 28 to Jan. 3.

The program began in Iraq in the summer of 2009, sponsored by the Troops First Foundation based in Laurel, Md., and is designed to bring injured combat veterans back to the places they were wounded in an effort to help them gain emotional closure brought on from their injuries.

One important part of the program is the military mentor, said Richard Kell, Troops First Foundation executive director. He added that the military mentor is the most significant structural change to the program since its inception.

During the first trip in June, Sgt. Robert Brown returned to Iraq for the first time since he was struck by an enemy bullet September 24, 2006, in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi. Brown returned in October as a mentor for six Soldiers and one Marine who were returning to Iraq for the first time since their injuries.

"I wanted to come back the first time basically because I needed closure," said Brown, a Moncks Corner, S.C. native. He said he returned a second time, in October, to help fellow troops get the same closure he needed.

"Hopefully, we get them that sense of closure, that feeling, not necessarily on the physical side but on the psychological side," Brown said.

Psychological closure is what the program is about, Kell explained.

When Brown returned in October, he acted as a mentor to Spokane, Wash. native, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson. For Olson, who had his right leg amputated at the hip as the result of a rocket-propelled grenade attack on Oct. 27, 2003, while serving in Tall Afar, this was the first time he had returned to the place that had changed his life forever.

During the trip, Olson talked to Brown about the role as a mentor and he kept in touch with Kell, who invited him back for the third installment of OPE.

Olson returned as a mentor Dec. 28, with a group of four Soldiers. Three of the men had been injured while serving in Iraq. One Soldier had been injured in Afghanistan, but joined the group to talk to Servicemembers about his experiences and to prepare to be a mentor when the program is able to take troops into Afghanistan with the same goal in mind- closure.

"It's been a real blessing because now instead of just going through it, I've been able to kind of take a step back and watch the other reactions and share in a little of that emotion that the wounded warriors have," Olson said.

Olson explained that being a noncommissioned officer has helped him in his role as a mentor, because he likes to take care of Soldiers.

"This gives me another chance to help wounded warriors out. This is almost our little band of brothers, being wounded warriors," Olson said.

As Kell prepares for the fourth installment of Operation Proper Exit in the upcoming weeks, another Soldier will prepare for his role as a military mentor - Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz of Moline, Ill.

Schlitz, an Army Ranger, was serving with Fort Drum's 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, when he was hit by an improvised explosive device Feb. 27, 2007. Schlitz suffered burns covering 85 percent of his body, lost both hands, suffers vision loss and has a limited range of motion.
His attitude had a profound impact on all the Soldiers in his group, said Kell. For that reason, he said Schlitz was good fit to return in a new role.

"His ability to reach out and want to make other people feel good is an amazing quality. This isn't to take away from the other warriors, but I think we will all leave here changed (by him)," Kell said.

Page last updated Sun January 24th, 2010 at 05:41