WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 7, 2013) -- An Army captain, severely wounded in Afghanistan, said lessons learned from Ranger School strengthened his resolve to heal, and kept him resilient through his recovery.
Capt. Edward "Flip" Klein was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2012. He lost both legs above the knee, his right arm above the elbow, and three fingers on his left hand. Kline and his wife Jessica spoke Nov. 6, at the Pentagon about the injury, Klein's recovery, about his residence at an Army Warrior Transition Unit, and about his future.
In 2008, the Department of Defense selected November as Warrior Care Month to reaffirm its commitment to the care and support of wounded, ill and injured service members and their families. Since 2007, part of that reaffirmation comes through the contributions of the Army's Warrior Care and Transition Program which has returned to duty nearly 27,000 of the 57,000 Soldiers it has served.
IED IN AFGHANISTAN
On Oct. 22, 2012, seven months into his first deployment to Afghanistan, Klein was leading Bravo Company of the 2nd Infantry Division down a road in the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province. During that patrol, his life was changed forever. Klein stepped directly on a pressure-rigged improvised explosive device, known as an IED.
Recalling that day, Klein said he was packaged by his medic and several other Soldiers, then the entire ground unit carried him nearly 500 meters to the MedEvac landing zone where they arrived almost simultaneously with the UH-60 Black Hawk. Within 15 minutes of the blast the captain was on his way to the Kandahar Airfield surgical hospital. From the blast site to the operating room took less than 50 minutes.
With the support of his wife and care-giver, Jessica; their friends; numerous surgeons, therapists, doctors and nurses; and the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Klein pushes forward today with plans to pursue a master's degree in organizational management.
He, like many service members who no longer have normal use of their limbs as a result of IEDs, intends on using his mind as fuel to also propel himself toward many of his athletic goals, ones he knows will be far more challenging than sweating over books.
Klein had been a high school football star in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark. Following graduation, he went off to Texas Christian University to play ball and get an education. But at the end of a year, he left school. In April 2000, he enlisted in the Army after talking with his half-brother and role model who had graduated in 1989 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
By July 2002, he was a corporal with the 82nd Airborne Division, and became one of a select few from within the Army's enlisted ranks chosen to attend West Point. He graduated in May 2006, and headed off to Fort Benning, Ga., to earn his Ranger tab.
Autumn 2007, found Klein serving a 15-month deployment in Iraq, with a follow-on two-year assignment teaching the infantry officer basic leaders course. Next came his sole deployment to Afghanistan and the insidious IED.
Always an athletic guy, the 34-year old has no intention of giving up the physical challenges he has always enjoyed. While he hasn't yet been cleared medically for swimming, he intends to pursue triathlon training in the spring and has already become involved in hand-cycling and wants to start training for endurance and super-endurance races in the near future.
Klein credits the warrior transition unit, or WTU, for providing him with every advantage he needs to move forward, but also says the unit has been helping him temper expectations through expectation management.
"There's nothing comfortable about realizing what you can and can't do now and into the future," he said. "They've been a very solid support structure to help me deal with some of those disappointments based on realities."
Even though the WTU has helped him face realities, he has a few takeaways he picked up from Ranger school, keys to his ability to remain resilient.
"Two of the things I learned is that you can always take another step ... that's more of a figurative idea for me than literal, but the concept still applies," he said. "I can always push further than I am right now, regardless of how cold, wet, tired or hungry I am ... more in this case, injured.
"The second takeaway I got from Ranger school was that most failure is between the ears, and that is to say, really the only thing that can stop me is me ... from an internal perspective, that's what has helped me keep the positive outlook and the forward momentum that I have at this point," Klein said.
When wife Jessica, who Klein met at the academy, was informed of the severity of her husband's injuries, she quit her job in Washington State and moved to the nation's capital, where she could give her full attention to the recovery of her husband.
She has much praise for the WTU and the support she and her husband have received.
"The WTU provides a 'one-stop shop' for Soldiers and their families to take care of everyday tasks that include administrative issues, finance as well as family support programs and educational services," she said. "You'll hear the phrase 'ready and resilient' a lot, and as important as that is for our recovering Soldiers, the WTU provides an avenue for caregivers like me to also be ready and resilient.
"My husband's job is to heal ... my job is to facilitate his healing, so use your resources," she advised. "There are hundreds of people available within arms' distance, just grab somebody and ask them a question and if they don't know, they'll find out for you -- that's part of why the WTU is so great."
Klein has already been through more than 100 surgeries and fully expects to have more over the next 18-24 months. Whether he medically retires from the Army or submits a request to stay on active duty is up in the air for the time being.
With nearly 16 years of service and four deployments under his belt -- two in Iraq, two in Afghanistan -- Sgt. 1st Class Scott Cormack has been described as a "tough, no-guff" infantryman. Cormack also spoke at the Pentagon with Klein and his wife.
Today, that well-seasoned NCO is assigned as a WTU platoon sergeant overseeing five squad leaders and 30 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
At the WTU, Cormack has run head-on into the Army's latest efforts to inculcate readiness and resilience into the force. He said at the WTU, it's easy to see how the program can pay off.
"One of my Soldiers is a good example; he's a bilateral amputee and recently won the Boston Marathon hand-bike race, [he] came in first," Cormack said. "But when he first came to the WTU he was very downtrodden because he really hadn't dealt with his ... situation, but once he started using those resiliency tools and slowly got that snowball rolling, he's all about it.
"He'll come and play wheelchair basketball and just tear it up, and he talks to me constantly, whereas before it was very difficult for him," Cormack said.
Cormack says the job is a demanding assignment that requires the implementation of every aspect of leadership that he's learned since he was a private taking his first oath of enlistment.
Before he took the position, the Army sent him to San Antonio, to the cadre resilience course.
"Being taught the resiliency tools to recognize excessive stress, barriers to communication and interpersonal conflict management skills have given me the tools to be a better leader," he said. "Working with Soldiers who are going through the toughest times of their lives on a daily basis can be taxing, but it's also extremely rewarding."
In the six years since its creation in 2007, the Army Warrior Care and Transition Program under the Warrior Transition Command, has sought to provide support to severely wounded, ill or injured Soldiers and their families throughout the recovery and transition process.
Twenty-nine Warrior Transition Units and nine Community-Based Warrior Transition Units across the country are currently serving more than 7,500 Soldiers.
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