19 June 2009

Wounded commander takes over Warrior Transition Battalion

Maj. Gen. Patricia Horoho and Lt. Col. Danny Dudek walk past soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion during the Pass in Review portion of a ceremony Wednesday in which Dudek assumed command of the battalion at Fort Lewis. Photo: Joe Barrentine / THE NEWS TRIBUNE.

“Taking an artillery battalion into Iraq would be easier than doing what I’m going to have to do with the Warrior Transition Battalion. That’s how complex, how important it is. But that’s where my passion lies.

- LTC Danny Dudek

Leading by example.

Lt. Col. Danny Dudek paced the dew-covered grass of Fort Lewis’ Watkins Field, inspecting his troops during a ceremony marking a change of command for his unit.

The sight of an officer marching past with the aid of hand crutches was not lost on the hundreds of wounded and injured soldiers of the Warrior Transition Battalion whom Dudek now commands.

“The Army has to make a deliberate decision to let a paralyzed lieutenant colonel command a battalion,” the 40-year-old said. “That doesn’t happen often.”

Dudek, previously the battalion’s executive officer, took command from Lt. Col. K.C. Bolton on Wednesday morning. Dudek now is responsible for about 600 soldiers with long-term or complex medical issues, one of 39 such units across the military.

Dudek, whose feet are paralyzed, has been with the unit almost two years. He was serving in Iraq with Fort Lewis’ 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division when an explosively formed penetrator, a particularly lethal form of a roadside bomb, detonated under his Stryker vehicle near Husseiniyah on July 19, 2007.

Cpl. Brandon M. Craig, a 25-year-old Maryland resident, was killed almost instantly.

“Danny was hurt very badly from that attack, but nothing was going to keep him down,” said Lt. Col. John Steele, the former 4th Brigade deputy commander who’s now in the same position for the 191st Infantry Brigade. “He kept asking, ‘How are the soldiers? Are they OK?’ I never once heard him say anything about himself.”

His subsequent journey through the Army medical system gives him a clear insight into what can be improved, said Maj. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the commander of Madigan Army Medical Center.

“Danny brings to his position a special uniqueness of first-hand experience of what it’s like to walk in the boots of the very soldiers he is now charged with caring for,” Horoho said.

“I keep hearing that I inspire people,” said Dudek. “But I’m just trying to get through the day.”

The rest of the story is here.

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