They left Afghanistan in a way none of us would want to, but they returned as victorious heroes earning closure for themselves, inspiring the service members here and flipping the finger to the enemy who thought them destroyed.
Troop First Foundation’s Operation Proper Exit brings injured veterans back to the country where they were hurt, enabling them to resolve what happened to them, interact with deployed service members again and leave Afghanistan on their own terms, thumbing their nose at the enemy in the process.
Eight soldiers and Marines visited Camp Phoenix where they were greeted with a corridor of service members and contractors with their arrival. They then addressed a standing-room-only crowd to talk about their injuries, rehabilitation and reintegration and recovery. Several members of Alabama’s Task Force Centurion Prime talked with the participants.
Marine Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, who lost a leg to a bomb on a foot patrol in 2010, said the return to Afghanistan does something significant for the service members participating in Operation Proper Exit.
Instinctively, family members want to help a service member who is hurting when a military member’s instincts are to suck it up and handle everything on his or her own, he said.
“A lot of times what happens is service members push their family members away – not because they’re trying to, it just happens because they’re upset,” Silva said. “They’re mad at what happened to them. They want to get back overseas. They want to get back with the unit they were with. They didn’t get to leave on their own terms. A big piece of this, Operation Proper Exit, is it does help a lot of us get some of that closure and strengthen those ties with families.”
After suffering such extensive injuries, you might think the last think they want to do is return to duty. You would be wrong.
“All we want to do is get back. That’s all we want to do,” said Army Spc. Bates, who suffered a crushed pelvis and a bilateral, above-the-knee amputation after an IED strike in 2009. “I’m so jealous of each and every one of you. You get to spend time in Afghanistan.”
Seeing other amputees being able to return to duty in the military inspired some of them to fight through rehabilitation to try to get back.
Army Staff Sgt. (ret.) Earl Granville, who had a left leg above-the knee amputation and a salvaged right leg after a roadside bomb in 2008, warned the leaders in the audience to start looking for warning signs for suicide. Granville’s brother took his own life as did some of the soldiers he served with, so the subject was important to him as the issue is a point of emphasis with the armed forces today.
“If a bad day becomes a bad month for one of your soldiers, something might be going on,” he said.
Most of all, the soldiers said they aren’t looking for sympathy or for people to go out of their way to assist them. What they really want is to feel like they have no injuries at all.
“The best thing others can do is to treat you exactly the same, to act as if nothing has changed,” one of the service members said.