Purple Heart recipient only wishes he could continue serving
February 28, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McChord, Wash. -- The moment a rocket landed near Spc. James Allum's vehicle during his 2010 deployment to Iraq, his life changed forever.
Today, nearly two years later, Allum, who could run six miles in less than 45 minutes when he joined the Army in 2007, walks with a cane.
His body shakes uncontrollably most of the time -- the result a movement disorder doctors believe was onset by the incident.
His memory, his wife says, is like Swiss cheese -- some moments there, some gone indefinitely.
But if there's anything Allum can claim hasn't changed at all, it's his unwavering desire to serve his country, the Army, his unit and, most of all, his chain of command, who fought for more than a year to get Allum the Purple Heart he finally received Feb. 27 during a long-awaited ceremony at the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade motor pool on Lewis-Main.
"It took a while to get the paperwork squared away, but we were glad to be able to do it," said Col. Paul Norwood, commander for the 201st BfSB.
Norwood pinned the medal to the uniform of Allum, a 109th Military Intelligence Battalion Soldier with Company B, before a formation of Allum's battalion -- the men and women he only wishes he could accompany to Afghanistan this year.
Unfortunately, Allum will leave the Army sometime in the near future due to his condition.
"There's no one else I'd want to go with," said Allum, a Norristown, Pa., native. "They're the best.
"Everything in me wants to go; it's only my stupid hand moving and my lack of balance that's keeping me from doing the job I want to do, and that's very frustrating."
When Allum deployed to Iraq in 2010 he'd reached his pinnacle -- serving his country and fulfilling the job he admits he'd become very good at.
The first weapons cache you find, or the first official who was going to assassinated, but whom you saved based off information you found -- that's an amazing feeling, he said.
"It's better than anything I've ever had. It's something you just can't get anywhere else."
It's a feeling that was literally years in the making for the 36-year-old, who joined the Army in 2001 but was discharged within 90 days because he failed the physical fitness test.
Five years later and weighing 250 pounds, Allum, who had just finished a tour to Iraq as a civilian contractor, found it in himself to try again.
"All throughout late 2006 and all of 2007 I worked out every single day," he said.
He had dropped nearly 80 pounds by the time he left for basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., in January 2008.
Then, he was like the majority of his family who came before him, whom served in the military. He was like his older brother, who was a private first class when he passed away at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1981.
But March 23, 2010, would change that in an instant.
Allum and a fellow Soldier he oversaw were making a short trip across Contingency Operating Base Speicher in northern Iraq to retrieve some supplies when a 127 mm artillery round impacted next to the driver's side of their vehicle. Allum was driving at the time.
The blast slammed Allum's head against the inside of the vehicle's door.
He still needs his wife's help to piece together the event -- to fill in the blanks of his recollection.
"From what I understand happened, they took me to the medical point, did an exam on me, and sent me to Landstuhl, Germany, for five weeks," he said.
"When he first called me there was a lot he didn't remember about growing up, his family -- just different things I had to fill in for him," said Lisa Allum, Spc. Allum's wife and a native of Philadelphia, standing next to her husband after the ceremony.
Lisa said her husband had suffered a Grade II concussion. And although he would fight tooth and nail to remain in Iraq, his tour was over.
Now, Spc. Allum has to take medication before driving because he shakes so severely otherwise. He can't cook when he's home alone, his wife said, because he'll forget the stove is on.
"It's been an adjustment," Spc. Allum said. "My movement disorder makes life challenging."
As he stood before his battalion -- chest out and tall -- Spc. Allum's fellow Soldiers saw a man of smiles and pride.
But Lisa Allum saw something else, too.
She knows the man deep down, who only wishes he could stay in his unit and do the job he trained on for four years.
"He really wanted this very badly, to be in the service, and the fact that he can't deploy with his unit now -- they don't really realize how heartbreaking it is for him," she said. "He wanted to be in for 20 years. This is what he wanted to do."
"He took a lot of pride in being able to serve his country in that capacity."
"It's so hard, because it's all that I want to do, but I just don't have the ability," Spc. Allum said. "It's who I am. We're Soldiers. We're here to protect."
But Spc. Allum, whose battalion commander, Lt. Col. Douglas Woodall, considers Allum one of the most upbeat and positive people he's ever met and an inspiration to his fellow Soldiers, is coming to terms with the bright side.
"It doesn't do anybody any good when you're failing at what you do because your body can't do it anymore," he said.