Bringing closure to wounded Veterans
Sgt. (Retired) Juan Arredondo, of Coachella, Calif., displays his i-Limb, a prosthetic with small motors that power each finger, at Joint Base Balad, April 6, 2010. Arredondo, formerly an Avenger crew member with Company D, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, returned to Iraq to the site in Ramadi where he lost his left hand to an improvised explosive device. The trip, made possible through Operation Proper Exit, was designed to help in the recovery process.

"They had me hidden in the sergeant major's office," said Staff Sgt. Julio Arredondo, "They told me he was looking all around."

Moments later, the governance noncommissioned officer with the 486th Civil Affair Battalion emerged and surprised his brother, Sgt. (Retired) Juan Arredondo, both natives of Coachella, Calif., during a welcoming ceremony at the al-Faw Palace in Baghdad, April 5, 2010.

More than just a return to where he had served as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Juan, accompanied by eight other recovering Soldiers, took advantage of a unique program known as Operation Proper Exit. The year-old initiative allows Soldiers to return to Iraq to visit the places where they were injured as part of their overall recovery process.

Recovery is more than just a physical effort, said Julio, who is currently stationed at Contingency Operating Base Basra in southern Iraq. It provides psychological closure.

"The program definitely helps - and not only my brother," he said. "I know a lot of Soldiers that want to come back. It helps bring closure for some that just want to walk out on their own versus their last memories of being carried out on a stretcher."

Juan lost his left hand when an improvised explosive device was detonated near his vehicle Feb. 25, 2005. During Operation Proper Exit, he returned to the base in al-Ramadi where he served and took a trip out to the site where his life was changed.

"They actually flew him over where he was hit," Julio said.

The reunion marked the brothers' first time together in Iraq.

The other eight Soldiers visiting Iraq this trip as part of the program were also taken to the spots where they were injured. Along the way, they had the opportunity to share their experiences with many Soldiers at each base and were assisted by those currently deployed.

"They had dedicated Soldiers for every wounded Soldier - to show them around, help them with their [individual body armor], take their bags and whatnot," Julio said. "And that was across the board, everywhere we went."

The mission seemed to be a success overall, but how exactly it helped was something unique to each Soldier, Julio said.

"For everybody, it was something different," he said. "They get to see the changes from when they were here. A lot of them mentioned they didn't hear gunshots or bombs going off and stuff. So, that's how it's changed."

For the brothers who grew up in California - 6,000 miles away - the opportunity now to share time together has helped heal a wound that has affected his whole family.

"As it is, at home my brother is surrounded by a lot of Soldiers wounded in many ways." Julio said. "Everyone I meet has a different story and I got to meet this great group of guys who came. It's a great program that they've got set up - I'm glad."

This most recent visit marked the fifth trip by Operation Proper Exit, started by the Troops First Foundation in June 2009, and is supported by the USO.

Julio said he was especially thankful to his leadership, who allowed him to go on the trip, and also all the people involved in coordinating the effort.

"The Army's been a part of this. And Troops First Foundation are the ones that set it up with a lot of help from the [United States Forces - Iraq] sergeant major and his staff," he said. "It wouldn't be possible without everybody putting in work in order to get these birds and a dedicated C-130 to fly them from Kuwait."

Even though Operation Proper Exit focused on the wounded warriors, Julio said the benefits of the trip extended to help him as well.

"With my brother, we'd never served together," he said. "Not that this was serving together, but in a way it was - for us. We thought that way - getting a chance to hang out in theatre; it was good."

Page last updated Mon April 26th, 2010 at 10:12