AFGHANISTAN -- A harsh reality of war is that some servicemembers must pay the ultimate sacrifice, while others are severely injured in the pursuit of freedom.
For those who are injured, the healing process is not only physical but also mental. Both must be repaired to help these heroes move forward in life.
To aid these wounded warriors, the Troops First foundation started Operation Proper Exit, sending wounded veterans back to the battlefield, allowing them to leave Afghanistan on their own terms.
The tour brought eight servicemembers, to include five soldiers and three Marines, to the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan.
The visit began with the warriors arriving aboard Camp Leatherneck and then escorted to the Camp Bastion Hospital, a place a few of them had already been but under different circumstances.
Army Specialist Adam Bates, who was wounded in Kandahar province, was greeted by a familiar face, the nurse who had helped save his life during his deployment.
After seeing the care providers, they were then taken to the Camp Leatherneck Townhall and given a chance to discuss their injuries and talk with the Marines, sailors and soldiers in attendance.
“I didn’t feel any of the blast,” said Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, a wounded warrior. “Something that’s that violent and that fast just kind of sears all of the nerve endings.”
Silva stepped on an improvised explosive device and was left with amputations to both legs, perforated eardrums and damages to vital organs.
“To date, I’ve had about 45 surgeries,” said Silva. “ I’ve got about five more major surgeries to go. I’m still thankful that I’m here.”
That sentiment was expressed by each warrior as they took turns discussing their injuries and answering questions that from the audience.
No matter how bad their injuries were, they were still happy to be alive and able to live another day.
“This was an opportunity for those soldiers and Marines to come back to Afghanistan and see the progress that has been made and share their story,” said Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Rocquemore, sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward). “We read a lot of the reports about IEDs and things of that nature, but a lot of Marines aboard Camp Leatherneck are removed from that, somewhat distant.”
Not actively engaging the enemy can dull the senses of Marines to the harsh reality of Afghanistan. Having servicemembers who have actively engaged the enemy, wounded and are still in high spirits is something that can bring them closer to understanding the seriousness of their environment.
“I think them coming back, telling their stories and still being upbeat and letting everyone know that they were servicemembers and were proud to serve and still proud of their service says a lot,” said Rocquemore.
After sharing their stories, the warriors made their way from the stage amidst rounds of applause and cheers from the audience. An intense sense of respect fell over the crowd. With service members like these, heroes, patriots, it is easy to see why Americans can sleep safely at night and Afghanistan has become a safer place.