By U.S. ArmyMay 7, 2011
Eight men shared their stories as unique as their personalities; each injured in conflict during the height of the war in Iraq. All of these men were awarded the Purple Heart and one earned the Silver Star for his actions in combat.
These eight men travelled together back to Iraq, April 24, to participate in one last mission, Operation Proper Exit IX, to get the closure and peace-of-mind they never received the last time they were here.
The program afforded Retired Army Sgt. Tom Bishop, Marine Cpl. Matt Bradford, retired Army Cpl. Steven Cornford, retired Marine Cpl. Donny Daughenbaugh, retired Army 1st Lt. Jim Kirchner, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Mancini, retired Marine Cpl. Isaiah Schaffer and retired Army 1st Lt. Ed Salau to step into a country to which they thought they would never be able to return to.
During OPE IX, the wounded warriors were able to see the progress of the Iraqi forces and government has made since they were here last. The Warriors were also able to fly over the exact spot where they were injured.
Aca,!A"Being able to see how things have changed in Iraq since the last time I was here is amazing,Aca,!A? said Bishop. Aca,!A"Being able to see that there is truly a light at the end of the tunnel is inspiring. It shows that everything weAca,!a,,cve done and the blood that was left here was for a good reason.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"I donAca,!a,,ct have to worry about tracers flying over my head this time and I can go outside without a flak vest and Kevlar helmet,Aca,!A? said Schaffer. Aca,!A"I can go out and raise a flag on a roof without a sniper taking a shot at me.Aca,!A?
Operation Proper Exit gave all eight of the men a chance to let things go and release the emotional charge that has been building up inside since they were injured.
Aca,!A"When I left the Army, I was ashamed of myself for a long time,Aca,!A? said Cornford, Aca,!A"I felt like I left the fight. Now, I know I didnAca,!a,,ct just abandon my fellow troops. I was able to let some things go during our trip here and put things to rest.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"This has helped me tremendously in the healing process,Aca,!A? said Mancini. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs something I canAca,!a,,ct find words for. There are things that happen when you get hurt. You try to piece things together and it doesnAca,!a,,ct quite mesh; to get those answers is invaluable.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"I was asked during my trip here if what we did was worth it and do we regret any of it,Aca,!A? said Bradford, who just recently reenlisted. Aca,!A"I would loose my legs over and over again to come home to the support of America. Yes, I have no legs and canAca,!a,,ct see, but every morning I wake up and put my uniform on; my legs are part of that uniform.Aca,!A?
The men were able to help close a chapter in their lives.
Aca,!A"I have people ask me, Aca,!Eoewhy do you want to go back to a place where you almost died'Aca,!a,,cAca,!A? said Daughenbaugh. Aca,!A"For me, itAca,!a,,cs more, why wouldnAca,!a,,ct I want to go back' I left against my will last time, and this time, it might not be against my will, but IAca,!a,,cm walking out of here, and thatAca,!a,,cs what itAca,!a,,cs all about.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"When I came back this time I needed one thing, to find evidence that my sacrifice was not in vain,Aca,!A? said Salau. Aca,!A"Also, that Iraqi soldiers and security forces stepped up to the challenge to defend and secure their homeland.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"This trip gave me that evidence,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We changed lives and this nation.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"I feel like IAca,!a,,cm a better man since I was injured,Aca,!A? said Mancini. Aca,!A"God taught me things in my heart that I wasnAca,!a,,ct receptive to before. I would encourage you to identify what those things are before youAca,!a,,cre lying in a humvee potentially taking your last breath.Aca,!A?
These eight men experienced their trip with open eyes and each in their own way. They came looking for closure and answers in a land that some leave with more questions than when they arrived. They found the peace they needed to return home and feel like the true heroes they are.
"ItAca,!a,,cs something IAca,!a,,cve wanted since the day I left the country,Aca,!A? said Daughenbaugh. Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct feel like I finished what I came here to do."