FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - When Staff Sgt. Brian J. Beem, of 5th SquadA,A!ron, 1st Calvary RegiA,A!ment, was given lemons he made lemonade.

The infantryman lost his leg to injuries he sustained in 2006 when his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Baghdad. His return to Iraq Wednesday as part of the Army's Operation Proper Exit brings him full circle from pain and loss to a sense of what he's gained in the proA,A!cess.

The program, sponA,A!sored by the Troops First Foundation, has providA,A!ed many Soldiers with the opportunity to close a tragic chapter in their lives. During the weekA,A!long event, Beem joined 10 other Soldiers returning to Iraq for the first time since suffering similar injuries.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to share my experiences and to hear other people's stories," Beem said.

Since returning from Iraq, Beem credits much of his success throughA,A!out the healing process to the men and women he has been able to meet and share stories with.

"I have been able to meet so many amazing people that I may have never met if it hadn't been for my injury," he said.

When Beem's vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device, shrapA,A!nel from the explosion pierced his right leg. Not knowing the extent of the injury, he tried standing up but soon realized he wouldn't be able to make it out on his own.

"I stood up and I could tell that my leg was broken," Beem said. "I could see blue flames coming from the vehicle, and I knew we had to get out."

A lieutenant also on the patrol with Beem and his team quickly grabbed Beem's arm and helped carry him through the hatch. Shortly after exitA,A!ing the vehicle, medics arrived on scene and transferred Beem and the other Soldiers to the Green Zone.

Still unaware of how severe his injury was, Beem was sent to Balad and then Walter Reed Medical hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries to repair a broA,A!ken leg. But even after all the surgeries, Beem knew something wasn't right.

"Everything was going good for about an hour," he said. "I looked down at my foot and it was turnA,A!ing purple, and that's when I knew something was wrong."

The piece of shrapnel had left an open wound that became infected, and he also suffered a number of blood clots. Once again the doctors were forced to operate on his leg, but it was too late. Between the infection and the clots, there had already been too much damage, said Beem.

He said he remembers waking to his wife's voice after the last surgery, saying 'Brian I'm sorry, but they had to take your leg.'

For Beem, the months following the surgery preA,A!sented him with many challenges, like learning to walk on a prosthetic leg. "For the first couple of weeks, I just sat in my room in a wheel chair," he said. "After a few minutes of wearing the prosthetic leg, I would begin to hurt."
Unfortunately, learnA,A!ing to walk again wasn't the only challenge he faced.

Not only could Beem not return to his line unit, but he now faced a medical board that could choose to discharge him from the Army.

Beem didn't wait for the board to make its decision. Instead, he decided to make the best of his situation by tryA,A!ing activities like skiA,A!ing and scuba diving, things he always wanted to do but never seemed to have the time for.

"It's easy to fall into making excuses, but I just had to remind myself not to worry about things I can't change," Beem said. "I wanted to live my life as normal as possible."

A positive attitude and dedication to his counA,A!try now has his focus turned in what he feels is the right direction. Although Beem doesn't know where his life will take him, he knows for certain where he wants to be.

"I'm here because I want to be here," Beem said. "Wherever the Army is, that's where I'm going to be."