By Sgt. Jeremy Spires, 36th Infantry Division Public AffairsMay 2, 2011
BASRA, Iraq (May 2, 2011) - Denied the opportunity to go home on their own terms, eight servicemembers wounded in Iraq during previous deployments returned to seek closure and see first-hand the results of their sacrifice during Operation Proper Exit, April 26, 2011.
"I just want to thank you for what you did for our country and the sacrifices you have made," said Maj. Gen. Eddy Spurgin, commander of USD-South and the 36th Infantry Division during an office call with the wounded warriors. "My division headquarters takes this very seriously. We were just talking about how we want to (finish) our mission with honor and success for the servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who were wounded."
The wounded warriors spent the day touring the different facilities on the base and visiting with a number of fellow servicemembers. During a town hall meeting at the base chapel, where the warriors shared their stories, retired Cpl. Isaiah Schaffer had a few words of wisdom to impart to the members of the military seated before him.
"It's on the individual to take care of that guy on the right and the left of them, and it is up to those guys to do the same," said Schaffer, who suffered numerous injuries during his deployment in Hiditha and Ramadi from to 2005 with the Small Craft Company, 2nd Marine Division. "That's really the only protection you have. You can have as much up-armor as you want, but if we are not using the best weapon we have, our minds, then we have no protection."
The participants in Operation Proper Exit visited the 501st Explosive Ordnance Detachment during the final hours of their stay. The detachment had on display their mine-resistant ambush-protected, known as MRAP, vehicles, and Soldiers presented a class on the current tactics, techniques and procedures used in combating improvised explosive devices.
"When they said MRAP, I though they were talking about a robot or something," said retired Cpl. Donny Daughenbaugh, who was injured in 2004 when he was shot in the face conducting a vehicle search on the outskirts of Mahmudiyah. "To see something like this, it really changes the opportunities and survivability of Soldiers."
Many of the Soldiers and Marines were medically evacuated out of country due to the seriousness of the combat injuries they suffered in the line of duty. For Daughenbaugh and many others, coming back and being able to leave on their own terms is what this operation is all about.
"When we were here doing our stuff, we couldn't wait to get out of this place and get back home," said Daughenbaugh as he sat on the back of an MRAP and talked with Soldiers of the 36th Inf. Div., "but since we didn't get to finish our time and mission when we left, the way we left it felt like we failed. So we are (in Iraq) for a week and then we get to leave on our own terms and (our own) two feet."
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they are giving us to be back in uniform and to be with other troops back on bases again," he added. "Beside the fact that I don't have a weapon, it feels like I never left."