214th Fires Soldiers, families adapt after IED attack
March 28, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (March 28, 2013) -- Ten months have passed since the May 20 attack on a 214th Fires Brigade security force assistance team that left two dead and two wounded during a deployment in Afghanistan.
That enemy forces attack in Tarin Kowt with an improvised explosive device is still a shock for many in the Fort Sill area and something they think about daily.
Capt. Jesse Ozbat and 2nd Lt. Tobias Alexander were killed in the attack, and Capt. Karim Al-Azzawi and 1st Lt. Ryan Timoney were severely injured.
Though time has moved on, the events of that day still affect those close to the individuals tremendously.
"Life is different and quite hard without him as we were together for a decade. I haven't been able to describe all the feelings I have about his death besides, it sucks," said Ozbat's widow, Danielle. "It still doesn't feel real, and I'm taking it day by day. Every day is an uphill battle, and I'm nowhere close to the finish line; then again, there is no finish line in grief. As time goes on it won't hurt as much."
Alexander's widow, Amanda, is taking her unfortunate newfound expertise with grief and turning it into a way to help others.
"The loss of my husband has forced me to re-evaluate my educational goals, and I have changed my field of study to therapy in hopes of specializing in grief," she said. She will graduate with her bachelor's degree this May and begin her master's degree program in the fall.
Amanda recently formed the "Tobias C. Alexander Scholarship Foundation" at Cameron University to honor her husband, a native of Lawton.
"One of Toby's proudest moments was being commissioned as an officer in the Army after he finished the Green to Gold program through ROTC at Cameron. Once we have reached our endowment goal of $10,000 we will be able to honor Toby's legacy of being an exceptional Soldier and officer by helping another individual in the ROTC program fulfill their educational goals," said Alexander.
The brigade has established goals to ensure the families of those killed and injured remain close to their thoughts and their events. In November, the brigade hosted the "Fallen Soldier Memorial 5K" run which honored all service members killed in the line of duty.
"At Christmas time some of the most thoughtful families from the unit brought our family some holiday treats, and some fellow Army wives helped decorate my home with Christmas decorations," said Alexander. "The kindness that our family has been shown during our time of loss has been immeasurable and my gratitude cannot be expressed in words."
An 11-year veteran and the team leader for the group attacked, Capt. Karim Al-Azzawi is stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga., attending a new school for cyber warfare, something that he has been waiting to attend for a long time.
"I love field artillery and really enjoyed my time at Fort Sill, but I have been looking forward to this school, ... and it is nice to be working in the field that I hold a degree in. I am excited to be part of some of the new things the Army is doing," said Al-Azzawi.
His injuries included a ruptured left ear drum, and fragmentation wounds to his neck, jaw and left shoulder. Fragments also caused wounds to his left leg and passed through his right knee and fractured his femur at the joint.
"I'm doing so much better now, though I do act like I can't hear my wife when she talks to me sometimes," he quipped.
Al-Azzawi said he tries to remain positive since the attack. His positive attitude was noticeable when the 214th FiB commander and command sergeants major went to visit him and 1st Lt. Timoney last month.
"We thought that we would go down there and provide the inspirational discussion and appreciation for what they did, but it was just the opposite," said Col. Timothy Daugherty, 214th FiB commander.
"Timoney and Al-Azzawi's visits had me leaving there much more inspired by them then they were by me. Their commitment to their country and their overall duty was just inspiring to say the least," Daugherty said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Giles said the visit with the two officers was great.
"Their attitudes are amazing, and they are both doing a fantastic job, especially given their circumstances," he said.
Al-Azzawi called the incident life changing.
"My perspective, both personally and professionally has been impacted, but I view my recovery as a chance to hit the reset button on things I want to do differently," said Al-Azzawi. "[The situation] made me even more proud to be a member of the U.S. Army; my family and I witnessed the absolute best in the Fort Sill community."
His positive attitude expands from his former job as a field artillery commander to his current job as a cyber warfare student, and even to his medical treatment.
"I received first class medical care with the Army. Some extremely gifted doctors and nurses treated me immediately following the attack to when I left the Warrior Transition Unit," he said. "My wife and I were both informed about every step of my recovery, and the staff even showed great concern for my wife, Kate, who was my caretaker."
He continues routine care and is still part of an Army pain study that researches how to control pain associated with his injuries. He has since made a near full recovery and has begun to run again.
He was cleared to attend airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., this summer and is looking forward to that challenge. Following airborne school, Al-Azzawi will be assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky. Off duty he's working to complete a master's degree and plans to make the Army his career.
Like Al-Azzawi, Timoney's life took a dramatic change a year ago, and yet, he, too, is pressing on with his life. Timoney hasn't yet recovered fully, but he focuses on pushing forward with his progress.
Immediately following the attack he was unconscious for nearly a month.
"It was weird, I was conscious for a little bit at Walter Reed a few weeks after, but I don't remember any of that. The first thing I remember was getting ready to fly down to Florida after a month," he said.
He recently married his girlfriend, Kelby, March 7 in Tampa, Fla. They met at a local coffee shop.
"Kelby's great. Originally she was going to school as a nursing major but switched to business. I am getting a ton of overwhelming support from her. I rely on her all the time. I can't drive, I can't walk, but she is there to take care of me each step," said Timoney.
"Lieutenant Timoney really has a great gal in Kelby. She stood by him the whole time and that is something unfortunately we don't see very often," said Giles.
Kelvy serves as her husband's nonmedical attendant through an Army program that enables people like her to take the time to completely care for someone who is unable to function independently.
Currently, Timoney is in Tampa, at James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, but he just found out a recent leg surgery has a spreading infection, and he will go back to Walter Reed to discuss possible amputation. Timoney has been in a wheelchair since the attack.
"I'm going to fight to get this leg cut off because it has been nothing but problems," he said.
Doctors installed a device in his leg that was supposed to help regain its use, but it isn't working.
"Luckily I just had my wedding so that will probably be the last time I stand on my feet," he said.
Recently, he had successful crainoplasty surgery which he attributes to being able to think and understand better.
"For six months I sounded really terrible. Luckily, this past December I had surgery on my head that has helped my brain be able to fire on all cylinders, something it couldn't do before. After getting this titanium plate in my head I sound more like myself now," he said. " I tried before to read each day and it was just too hard, but now I feel like I'm making progress and improving even though it is still very difficult. Now I can make decisions and feel like my brain is really waking up."
Timoney plans to leave the Army and pursue a career in video game development, something that he had envisioned himself doing before joining the Army.
"I joined to fight but I can't really do that anymore with one leg, head and eye problems, and I can't exactly remember everything, so it's time for me to leave space for Soldiers who can fight," he said.
"I've found that I can't blame myself. I have accepted the position I'm in. A lot of people are worse off and the first thing I did was accept where I am. I'm excited to lose my leg. I'm looking forward to putting on a prosthetic leg and being able to run. That's something that I haven't done in so long."
Even as he recovers Timoney does so in a way that allows him to build on gradual small victories.
"There's no way I'm going to say 'I'm going to run a marathon in a few months,' you have to be patient and understand goals need to be reachable," he said.
He hopes other Soldiers in similar situations understand they need to have support. If they don't have a spouse or significant other, Timoney said groups are out there that are willing to and can help.