28 October 2009

'The lives of 18 other guys was worth it'

“I think Dickison’s sacrifice and my sacrifice are what led to 18 other guys being alive. I went back to Fort Riley and got to see some of the soldiers who were near the explosive that day. One of my soldiers that I knew very well, his wife just had a baby. I think to myself, 'Well, what would have happened if we didn’t find that device and disabled it? Then he wouldn’t be here.' If I have to go through life without legs, it was worth it."

- Former Army Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr

Former Army Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr used the example of other wounded warriors to re-adapt after losing his legs in an explosion in Iraq. Now he's helping others with disabilities. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army.

This story takes me back. It began when I was asked to check on Tony, one of the Soldiers from Joe's unit medevaced to Germany in the Fall of 2005. When I asked about the KIA bracelet he wore, he told me about the events of July 5, 2005 in which SPC Christopher Dickison was killed and SSG Joe Beimfohr was hurt. Then he pulled out his laptop and showed me a tribute he'd created for Christopher. When the tribute came to an end, our eyes met and I remember wondering how it was possible for someone's eyes to be so completely filled with tears without spilling over. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Through Tony, I later met Joe in Washington, DC. When he picked me up at my hotel it was the first time I rode as a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone without legs. And it didn't help when Joe nonchalantly told me he had just gotten the car outfitted with hand controls and wasn't too familiar with it yet...

The quote above says just about everything about Joe you need to know. Although we only spent a couple of hours together, I remember him telling me he'd thought a lot about what happened. And had come to peace with the conclusion that it was a good tradeoff - his sacrifice and Christopher's against the lives of 18 other men.

So I was very happy today to see that Joe has been featured in DefenseLink's Wounded Warrior Diaries. Because now I can share the reason I think about Christopher, Joe, and Tony every July 5th. And now you can think of them, too.

In January 2005, Joe was was deployed to Baqouba, Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment out of Fort Riley, KS.

Beimfohr’s 25-vehicle convoy had stopped to investigate a possible IED, and he led a team to inspect the site. The team found and cut a wire that led to the road, disabling the IED. But terrorists were watching, and detonated another IED.

Army Spc. Christopher W. Dickison was killed instantly. Beimfohr lost both his legs, fractured his pelvis and right hand, and suffered abdominal injuries. His team’s sacrifice in disabling the first IED directly contributed to saving the lives of other soldiers in the convoy.

Beimfohr was transported from Balad to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and eventually to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, where he spent nearly a year in recovery. He became involved in many sports-related activities, from mastering martial arts to excelling in hand-cycle marathons.

Beimfohr says he’s stubborn by birth, and that he believes his internal drive to persevere and overcome helped him to move past his injuries.

“When I woke up and I was alive, that is what changed everything -- that was the last thing I asked God,” he said. “When I woke up and realized I was alive, everything else didn’t matter, because I was alive.”

“We are a unique club -- we are a unique band of brothers,” he said. “Our experiences are one-of-a-kind, and especially with this generation, with the media and the Internet, and a population that supports what we do. They want to learn more about us, and that brings us together.”

Wounded warriors have choices during their recovery, Beimfohr said. “You can sit in your hospital bed and complain about your injuries,” he said, “or you can accept what happened to you and move forward in a positive direction.”

Beimfohr said he doesn’t believe he is a hero, but rather servicemembers killed in battle are the true heroes.

“The heroes are the guys like Specialist Dickison -- the guys who didn’t come back who sacrificed their lives for their units, for their comrades, for their soldiers,” he said.

Please take a moment to read the rest of Joe's story.

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