By Pfc. Victor J. Ayala, 49th PADMarch 3, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Upon first glancing at someone, the extraordinary can be hard to see. What you see of a person on the surface only shows a little of who they are. It's the things you don't always see right away, that show you what really lies beneath. Sgt. Cameron E. Stroeh, a non-commissioned officer in charge of training operations for Fort Bragg's Warrior Transition Battalion, appears to be a typical Soldier. But if the right sleeve of his shirt should come up a bit, you might catch a glimpse of a story of a man who is more than typical. Running the length of his entire right forearm is a deep, broad scar, and beneath the scar tissue is a 15-inch bone from his leg used to replace a crushed radius bone. All this, together with his easy smile and relaxed attitude, makes for an image that sharply contrasts with what most would expect in a wounded warrior. It was June 15, 2007, when Stroeh suffered the wounds that have limited his range of motion with his right hand and arm. He was a cavalry scout with Troop, A 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, and his squad was on a foot patrol south of Baghdad, Iraq, when they came under small arms fire. "We were ambushed by a group in a car while we were in a wide open field. They drove up and started shooting at us. Then one of my friends got hit," Stroeh said. Within seconds, Stroeh was taken out of the fight. "I was hit in the right forearm. Then I got grazed on my right bicep and then I also took a bullet to the handle of my knife which was right above my plate," he said. "It knocked me back and at first there was this sharp pain then it went numb." The bullet that hit his forearm destroyed his ulna bone, radial nerve and 15 inches of his radius bone. After the firefight, Stroeh and the other wounded Soldier received first-aid from Cpl. Ryan A. Woodward, another Soldier in the squad. Woodward applied a tourniquet and field dressing. Stroeh's hand was barely hanging onto his arm, he said. Even after receiving such a devastating wound, Stroeh and his fellow Soldiers kept their cool and even made light of the situation while they were waiting to be medically evacuated. "We were all making jokes the whole time," Stroeh said. "One of the guys even said, 'You only need a left hand for that wedding ring,'" The unit was two weeks away from their mid-deployment rest and relaxation and Stroeh was to be married during the break. Robyn, who was Stroeh's fiancAfAe at the time, heard the news of his injury from his mother, who received only the briefest telephone call. "When I heard, I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was in total disbelief. We didn't know where he was hit, or how bad it was," Robyn said. "I went to my mother's work to tell her and fainted in her arms." Stroeh was sent to a hospital in Baghdad where he had the first two of a long series of surgeries. He called his fiancAfAe from the hospital the day after the firefight. Even after the incident, Robyn said, he never sounded worried. She says calmness and level-headedness has always been part of his nature. From Baghdad, Stroeh was flown to Germany where he had four more surgeries and when he returned to Fort Bragg, he had three more. At his request, his last major surgery was performed in his home state of Nebraska at the Department of Veteran Affairs hospital in Omaha. Despite all this, Stroeh and his fiancAfAe still married right on time. Robyn said the wedding was wonderful. "The only problem we had was getting a tuxedo," she said. "And with those big casts on his right side, he had to stand to the left of me in all our pictures." Woodward, the Soldier who first administered aid to Stroeh when he was hit, attended the wedding. Stroeh said that he never really let the whole ordeal get to him, but one thing deeply affected him. His friend Woodward returned to Iraq soon after the wedding and was killed in action three weeks later. "One of the hardest things for me was that my friend died doing my job," he said. Since his last surgery and a brief rest period in Nebraska, Stroeh has been a Soldier in the WTB, where his main mission is to heal and get on with life. He is no longer undergoing rehabilitation as he has reached the maximum level of medical care. "It's as good as it's going to get," Stroeh said. "But I'm going to do my best to live a normal life." Stroeh is currently in the medical discharge process, and though he is leaving the Army, the lessons he learned while in the Army will stay with him forever. "The service really shows you what kind of person you are," he said. Both Stroeh and his wife look to the future with optimism. "We'll have a house, he'll go back to school and I'll work full-time. Maybe there are some kids in our future, even though he may not think so yet," Robyn said with a laugh. In his designs to live a normal life, Stroeh once more shows the extraordinary spirit you can't spot with the eye. He won't let the past limit his present and he won't let his present physical limitations hinder his future. When asked if he would do it all over again, even knowing what would happen June 15, 2007, he replied simply and earnestly, "Of course."