By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetNovember 13, 2009
FORT BENNING, Ga. - A lemon-sized brain tumor ended SPC Henel Blaise's dream of a military career but, with the help of Fort Benning's Warrior Transition Battalion, Blaise is finding a new path.
Blaise, who medically retired on Veterans Day, was assigned to the WTB in March 2007.
A 29-year-old from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he was diagnosed with a benign tumor in 2007 after a series of "immobilizing" headaches that left him with double vision and nausea. He had graduated from basic training, but instead of joining his unit for its deployment to Iraq, Blaise, a quartermaster and chemical equipment repairman, was reassigned to the WTB. After six months of the migraine-like headaches, Blaise had lost most of the vision in his right eye, developed nerve palsies and lost sensation on the right side of his face.
"I was scared at first of what would happen to me, if I was going to die or if I was going to make it through," he said.
While in surgery to have the tumor removed, doctors discovered the tumor had grown around Blaise's right carotid artery and the optical nerves behind his right eye, making it too risky to remove. They prescribed medications to control the pain.
More than a year later, Blaise said he has regained some sight in his right eye, though his vision is limited. The doctors said he may not regain all the sight he lost.
As a result, Blaise said "the bubble burst" on his hopes of returning to his unit.
"It's a tough transition at first, going from an active-duty unit to the WTB," said Blaise, who was previously assigned to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team's 203rd Brigade Support Battalion. "Everyone is used to doing things their way. But after a while, you learn each other's stories and you realize your day may not be their day, but it's just as tough."
"The military taught me how to be a man, that anything worth doing is worth struggling for," Blaise said. "It was hard. There were days I sat in WTB thinking to myself, 'All right, I'm in this unit and supposed to be getting healed but I'm still in pain.' I felt useless."
Blaise said he credits his squad leaders, chaplains, occupational therapists and others at the WTB for helping him "to get out of the rut" and onto a career path.
WTB personnel helped him draft a resume, locate job fairs and look at career options. His comprehensive treatment plan - a program developed by the WTB to assess progress on treatment and transition goals for each wounded Soldier - helped him chart his progress.
"I told him to stay positive, if he put his mind to it I knew there was nothing he couldn't do," said SGT Tenea Moore, one of Blaise's squad leaders with A Company, WTB.
Thanks to the encouragement he received, Blaise said he enrolled in Columbus Technical College. He starts his fourth semester in January and is pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
In October, Blaise attended the VFW Job Fair in Columbus and landed an interview to become a corrections officer at J.T. Rutledge State Prison. A few weeks later, he was hired and plans to start his new job Monday.
Twenty-seven percent of WTB Soldiers medically separate from the military and nearly 60 percent return to duty, according to WTB statistics.
"Coming to the WTB does not mean Soldiers will be separated from the Army," said LTC Sean Mulcahey, commander of the WTB.
Blaise said he's looking forward to his new career.
"I'm pretty excited about my life," he said. "I want my chance to do something for the community."