By Vanessa Villarreal (USFOR-A)April 16, 2015
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 16, 2015 -- A heroes' cordon surrounded the Resolute Support Facility compound today to welcome five Wounded Warriors to Bagram Airfield--two of which are Medal of Honor recipients.
"These five warriors have sacrificed so much for our country, their families, and their fellow Soldiers and Marines," Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, U.S. Forces Afghanistan -- Support, said. "They are true heroes and are a testament to the resolve, grit, and determination found only in America's finest. They have faced hardships and difficult recoveries from the injuries they sustained. Nevertheless, they are here now to leave this country on their own terms, to show that while they were injured engaging the enemies of our country, they are not now -- nor will they ever be -- broken."
The soldiers came here with Operation Proper Exit, an initiative of the Troops First Foundation, a nonprofit group that offers assistance to wounded service members and helps them to return to country.
Medal of Honor recipient Army Master Sgt. (Retired) Leroy Petry sustained combat injuries in May 2008 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. A member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, he currently works as a military liaison for the Troops First Foundation and is obtaining his degree in business management. He had a total of eight deployments -- two in Iraq and six in Afghanistan.
"Coming back now and seeing all of you, being retired, I get to go home and tell my children about the men and women that are still over here doing the duty that dad left off," he said. "I also have a message to send to the American public. And that is that all of the men and women who are still over here are continuing our job of making sure that the Afghan people are doing right and taking care of themselves so that we can get home and take care of our families and loved ones."
And he has a message for the America.
"I have buddies that just finished trip number 17," Petry said. "So I always remind people that even though it seems like I gave a lot, there's always people giving more. I look at those kind of magnificent feats, and look at people that are continuing to give everything they have -- sacrificing, not having that father, that brother, that sister at home. That's the kind of sacrifice that the American public needs to know about. It's not only time, it's the bloodshed and everything that goes with it. So when you go home, please thank your families."
Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. (Retired) Kyle Carpenter, a member of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, was injured in November 2010 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He's currently majoring in international studies at the University of South Carolina.
"I'm very humbled and honored to stand in front of you," he said. "This trip has been surreal. It's been incredible to come back here knowing and thinking I never would again. I didn't think I needed closure. But to come back here and see all of you in uniform, still going through the daily grind of being over here and not only protecting our homeland but protecting each other, looking out for each other and continuing the mission, is really powerful. It's really incredible. I thank you for your service."
And Carpenter said he wears his Medal of Honor for veterans, those who've sacrificed, active duty service members, for anyone all over the world that's ever worn the uniform.
"I wear it for you," he said. "It represents a lot more than any one idea or any one service member. It represents a lot more than me and the Marine Corps. It represents our country and all of the life and limb and bloodshed that we gave for it. And that those before us and those after us will give for it and have given for it. This trip was worth it. To fly all the way here halfway around the world just to tell you thank you and tell you what you do means a lot."
U.S. Army Sgt. Tom Block, a member of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, sustained combat injuries in October 2013 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. He's currently the non-commissioned officer in charge for the 3rd Ranger Battalion Combat Readiness Training Facility.
"This trip for me came to a head when we visited Craig Medical Center," he said. "They showed me the bed that I stayed in. That kind of came full circle for me. Let America know, as I will, that we are just one big family over here. We all come from different walks of life but at the end of the day, we're here for each other and we're here for the country that we love. And it's that love that's going to carry us through."
U.S. Army National Guard Cpl. (Retired) Steve Martin was injured in Charkh, Logar Province, in September 2008. He's currently a trooper with the Arizona Highway Patrol. Since he lost his legs, he's participated in 29 half marathons and five full marathons. He was also able to climb two summits with other military amputees. And he said the big reason why he accomplished all of this is because he got the right start here at BAF and received the proper care on the battle field.
"I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today without the service members that helped get us through there," he said. "It's just neat to see a sea of green out here today. Going back into Craig [Hospital] this morning was huge. It was a big emotional moment for me because the last time I [arrived] was unfortunately via a Black Hawk ride on a stretcher. I was pretty banged up. They took great care of me. They took great care of my team when we were hit and rolled us out of there about four days later. It's a huge honor to be back here today and to see everybody. I just didn't think I'd get back over here to see it.
"I can never repay the debt of the people I was with that day. The only way I can do that is to lead a good life and to set a good example and to just keep pushing forward and don't ever stop and keep going, doing as much as I can do. I lost both legs that day and I'm happy. Being an amputee sucks. But I've got a great life because of the dedication and the folks here that saved my life and got me home."
U.S. Army Sgt. (Retired) Ralph Caccipaglia, a member of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, sustained combat injuries in February 2012 in Helmand Province. Four months after being shot through the leg by a 7.62mm round, he tried out for and made the 2012 All-Army Rugby Team. He's currently working on his master's degree in business administration at Boston College.
"I never thought I would get the chance to come back here," he said. "I didn't know it was in the cards. A lot has changed since I was here at BAF. What definitely hasn't changed is the hard work all of you guys are putting in -- keeping each other safe, completing the mission, helping to improve this country against all odds. It's incredible, it's inspiring, and it's great to be here. Rangers lead the way!"
Each returning hero brought a measure of closure to his ordeal by traveling back to Afghanistan, and in the process inspired countless individuals in their path.