By Amber Avalona/ParaglideFebruary 18, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Jennifer Leonard, an Army Reservist turned military wife, ignored the two phone calls as she completed a shift at Marathon Convenience Store in Lexington, N.C. But the next number she recognized was that of her father-in-law. She responded to the questions, one by one - where are you' Who are you with' And then Jennifer heard the words that shatter any spouse of a deployed Soldier - "Don't cry," and her heart dropped. Her husband, Sgt. Matthew Leonard had been seriously wounded in action.
One week into her new position as assistant manager, Jennifer was thrown into another role - as the wife of a wounded warrior.
Matthew, Company B, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Div., arrived at Womack Army Medical Center in an ambulance, Nov. 6, 2010. He asked for a cigarette. The official answer was 'no', but in the Army, brotherhood is sometimes stronger than protocol.
Just a week before, Matthew was patrolling the streets of northern Afghanistan when an ambush targeted his truck with a rocket-propelled grenade. He never reached the team leader he intended to help.
From there, the story gets a little sketchy, as Matthew moved from country to country, surgery to surgery, in and out of medicated consciousness. The squad leader from Fort Drum, N.Y., had fought for many things as a Soldier in the United States Army. Fighting for his life was a natural extension of that tenacity.
"I had a piece of shrapnel that got me in the neck. They said it was a little less than a quarter inch from my jugular, so they had to go in and pull it out before it started moving around," said Matthew. Shrapnel from the blast sliced through other parts of his body, including the piece that entered near his shin and traveled up his leg, before blowing out his hip.
"It took me 45 minutes to find the hospital. I was so worried about getting (to) him that I got myself lost," said Jennifer, describing her first encounter with her husband after the blast. She'd driven from Lexington as an aircraft transported her husband from Germany, via a brief layover at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Intermittent surgeries and long stretches of recovery filled the days and weeks that followed and Jennifer spent most of her time at Matthew's bedside.
"I stayed with him every night for three weeks - except for one night, when I was hurting so bad in my back. He promised that if he needed me he would call," said Jennifer.
At Matthew's insistence, she retreated to a comfortable room at the Fort Bragg Fisher House, a 'home away from home' for Families of wounded warriors and other Soldiers hospitalized at WAMC.
(Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part series about The Fort Bragg Fisher House. Part two will be featured in next week's edition.)