31 March 2013

He is risen!

United States Army Capt. Ryan Kenny, of Billings, Mont., left, with the 82nd Airborne Division, holds a light over the text for Chaplain William Kneemiller, center, as he reads while Staff Sgt. Richard Webb, of Donna, Texas prepares to light the Easter candle during the Lighting of the Easter Vigil fire service of light at a forward operating base in the Arghandab Valley of Kandahar province in Afghanistan. AP Photo from Easter 2010.

And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.

And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men.

And the angel answering, said to the women: "Fear not; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified."

"He is not here, for he is risen, as he said."

Matthew 28: 1-6

30 March 2013

After the battle: The flying ICU

Members of the of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron assist patients on a C-17 Globemaster III medical transport flight out of Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, March 21, 2013. With help from the Critical Care Air Transport Team, the crew can turn a regular medical transport aircraft into a flying intensive care unit, making it possible to move severely injured or gravely ill servicemembers by air. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)

By Staff Sgt. Christopher Willis

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan--Three critically injured patients need immediate transfer to a medical facility outside of Afghanistan. One has a shot to the head, the other has missing limbs and the last has an open abdominal wound. Without a mobile intensive care unit, these patients will not make the flight out.

For members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team, this is go-time.

A CCATT crew consists of a physician, intensive care nurse and a respiratory therapist. Together they can turn a regular medical transport aircraft into a flying intensive care unit, making it possible to move severely injured or gravely ill service members by air to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Starting with the aeromedical evacuation of the patients from forward operating bases, to treating them at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility and then transporting them out of the country through a C-17 Globemaster III “Reach” mission to LRMC, moving patients throughout the area of responsibility takes a working team with multiple parts.

At the Craig Joint Theater Hospital on Bagram Air Field, the CCATT crew unplugs the patient from the hospital’s power and respiratory machines and into mobile units that are positioned along with stretchers. Then with the help of the hospital staff and the CASF crew, the patients are moved to the flightline where an aircraft awaits, already configured for their needs.

Senior Airman Delton McClary, 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Critical Care Air Transport Team respiratory therapist, performs an arterial blood gas sampling during flight out of Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, March 21, 2013. The results will be used to monitor the patient's hemoglobin and electrolyte levels and guide further resuscitation during the flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)

Once on the aircraft, each patient is attached to the central air and power supply and prepared for take-off. Since the majority of the CCATT’s patients are unconscious during the trip, great care is given to monitor their vitals and wellbeing.

"We make a promise to these men and women that no matter what happens, we will do everything in our power to bring them home,” said Capt. Mario Ramirez, CCATT physician. “Being a part of CCATT is a great honor and allows me to help fulfill that mission.”

While other passengers are getting some rest, the CCATT crew stays constantly on their feet observing the patients and watching for any signs of immediate medical need.

“It's all about these guys and girls who put their life on the line for us, the least we can do is give them the most optimum care we can provide,” said Senior Airman Delton McClary, CCATT respiratory therapist. “If we can get them from Afghanistan to Germany with no problems and better than when we received them, then we did our job.”

Every CCATT mission has its own unique challenges and is different than anything that exists in civilian medicine. They are trained to be a medical, surgical and trauma multi-specialty team, all in the back of an aircraft with limited resources.

“I work with an outstanding team, and together we are able to give these troops the same level of care they would get in America's best intensive care units," said Ramirez.

Pre-mission planning and good team communication is vital to the execution of CCATT mission, the job cannot be done by just one or two members of the team.

“We have learned to trust each other,” said Capt. Suzanne Morris, CCATT nurse, “During a mission there is a lot going on and you have to rely on your teammates if you want to succeed.”

Flexibility is also very important when it comes to the CCATT missions. They can be flying to an unexpected location to pick up an unexpected patient, or flying a mercy mission to reunite an injured servicemember with their families.

“Every mission has a particular place in my heart, some with great endings…some not,” said McClary. “But even more importantly, we get the patients to their family and that's the feel-good part of my job that I love to do.”

Even though the patients have a far longer journey to go for full medical recovery, they are now out of Afghanistan and at a higher level of care, thanks to the men and women of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Members of the 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility assist patients inside Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, March 22, 2013. LRMC provides state of the art care, using sophisticated invasive/non-invasive medical equipment and is the only tertiary intensive care unit within the European theatre. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)

Many more photos at the link.

23 March 2013

One Ranger's road to recovery: Aggressive use of craniectomies kept him and others like him alive

In January 2013, Staff Sgt. Dominic Annecchini sits next to a plastic mold of his skull that shows the piece that was taken out after he was shot in Afghanistan. Annecchini had a cranioplasty to replace his bone with a prosthetic piece the week before. Photo: Megan McCloskey, Stars and Stripes.

In 2003, doctors deployed in Iraq started seeing serious head traumas — the kind that used to mean these troops would never make it off the battlefield. The only two Army neurosurgeons in Iraq at the time realized they would die without a new way of dealing with the trauma. They looked to a technique used for decades to treat stroke patients: decompressive craniectomy - opening the skull to relieve pressure.

Today, one of them, Col. (Dr.) Rocco Armonda, is treating patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Megan McCloskey of Stars and Stripes has written a fascinating article about him, this treatment method, and one of his patients - Army Ranger Staff Sgt. Dominic Annecchini, who sustained a gunshot wound to the head in May of 2012.

[Staff Sgt. Dominic] Annecchini's platoon with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan training Afghan soldiers. In the dark of night on May 16, 2012, like he had on hundreds of other missions, the staff sergeant led a group to clear a house on a last-minute raid.

He opened the door for an Afghan counterpart, who then crossed into the entryway and was immediately taken out by AK-47 fire, falling into the room with the enemy. As Annecchini stepped into the line of fire to pull the Afghan out of the kill zone, a bullet bore through his night vision goggles and fragments studded his skull and brain above his right eye.

When he arrived at the combat support hospital in Bagram, the mounting pressure inside his skull threatened his life.

To rescue the brain, neurosurgeons cut open Annecchini’s head and excised his entire forehead.

After his craniectomy, Annecchini was in a medically induced coma for three days.

“I remember pulling security on the door and the next thing I remember I woke up in Germany,” he said.

Confused and looking around the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center hospital room, wondering where he was, a nurse leaned over and told him the news.

When he was first given a small hand mirror in the hospital bed, he didn’t look long.

“Oh, man,” he thought, quickly putting his reflection away.

He knew then his high speed life was over.

His right eye was swollen shut and his forehead was so massive from swelling, he thought he looked like the animated character Megamind, who has an oversized, alien-like head. He could barely speak and he couldn’t move his right arm or leg. Forty percent of his right frontal lobe had been damaged by bullet and bone fragments.

“The night vision goggles probably absorbed the majority of the gunshot blast, because otherwise he would probably be blinded and in a much worse state,” Armonda said.

Annecchini’s speech came back quickly, but it was as if he was paralyzed on his right side.

“He was pretty frustrated,” his wife Melanie Annecchini said. “He’d get annoyed trying to feed himself and get aggravated with me, because I wouldn’t let anyone help him. I made him do it on his own.”

She said he often tried to cheat by using his left arm to lift his right, which she shut down immediately. “He’d tell everyone, ‘She’s so mean to me!’ ”

He spent 10 days at Walter Reed and then went to the Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in California for intensive, daily therapy. From June through August, he did speech, language, physical, occupational and recreational rehab every day.

Where the conventional thinking after these types of head traumas used to be that patients might be saved for lives not worth living, the results are encouraging: About 60% have functional independence versus about 10%t of head trauma patients in the civilian world.

Meanwhile, Staff Sergeant Annecchini has re-enlisted in the Army at the VA center in Palo Alto. He knows he'll have to give up being a Ranger, but hopes to stay in the special forces community to contribute however he can.

Last year he did a 5k race using a cane and came in dead last. It was a far cry from life before his injury, but he hasn't given up running again.

“That’s something he’s very motivated to do,” Dr. Armonda said. “He’s a Ranger, so he’s going to set his sights pretty high, and [running is] part of their vision of themselves as having completely healed.”

Make sure to read this entire terrific article.

19 March 2013

The 10th Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom

U.S. Army Task Force Regulators 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment Staff Sgt. Fred Hampton, of Lexington, Ky., kneels on a knee to talk with a young Iraqi boy in the Thawra 1 section of the Sadr City District of Baghdad on June 20, 2008. Photo: Tech Sgt. Cohen Young, Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq.

There are no words to adequately express everything conveyed by this photo (originally posted in 2008). To me, it represents the highest ideals of our country and our troops, and the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people.

Thank you to the men and women of the U.S. Military for your extraordinary achievements and sacrifices in Iraq. You have freed an entire nation from a brutal dictator and given its people a chance for freedom and self-determination. The rest is up to them.

Major Hans Bakken, a U.S. Army neurosurgeon from Decorah, Iowa, enters a surgical ward March 16, 2006 in Balad, Iraq. Balad was one of the primary hospitals for troops and civilians injured in Iraq. Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

We will always remember your courage and your bravery, and we will never forget our debt of gratitude to all of you, especially the wounded and the Fallen. We pray for you and your families every day. May God bless you all.

"Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."
- Ronald Reagan

A photo essay of 10 years Operation Iraq Freedom can be found at the Denver Post here.

17 March 2013

Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja: 2012 Army Aviation Association of America DUSTOFF Medic of the Year

Army Sgt. Jose M. Pantoja, a medic with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, received a gunshot wound to the face during a firefight near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2007. Despite the wound, Pantoja continued to treat the injured Soldiers and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device. Pantoja was recently presented with the 2012 Army Aviation Association of America DUSTOFF Medic of the Year Award (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Leary).

From Army.mil:

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - A flight medic from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, was presented with the 2012 Army Aviation Association of America DUSTOFF Medic of the Year Award at the Fort Rucker Senior Leader's Conference at Fort Rucker, Ala., Jan. 29.

Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja, C/3-25th AVN, 25th CAB, originally from Bridgeport, Texas, received this award for his actions during his deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 12-13.

"I am very honored to receive this award," said Pantoja.

The article goes on to cover some of his achievements, but nothing does a better job of explaining who Staff Sergeant Pantoja is than this 2007 story by Army Spc. Matthew Leary of Task Force Fury Public Affairs Office.

Wounded in battle, medic chooses to stay with fellow Soldiers

FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERMEL, Afghanistan - While conducting combat operations in Afghanistan, Soldiers may sustain various non-life threatening injuries that are easily treated by a medic on site.

But when Army Sgt. Jose Pantoja received a gunshot wound to the head during a firefight near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan last summer, he was unable to turn to his platoon medic. He was the person his platoon turned to for help.

Pantoja had initially wanted to be an infantryman and looked into the possibility of joining the Army, he said. While in the recruiter's office, the idea of being a medic was suggested and Pantoja became interested in the career field.

"I asked what kind of things I would be doing, and it sounded like I would like it," Pantoja said.

In 2004, he enlisted in the Army as a medic.

Going through Basic Training at Fort Benning, Ga., and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Pantoja said he saw the role a combat medic plays in the field.

"I was fired up to be with the infantry," Pantoja said.

Pantoja was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, following his training.

"Medics belong to [2-87th Inf. Regt.], but when we deploy, we are attached to infantry units," said Army Staff Sgt. Jason M. Morgan, Battalion Treatment non-commissioned officer in charge, for 2-87th Inf. Regt.

When 3rd BCT deployed to Afghanistan in January 2006, Pantoja was attached to Company B, 2-87th Inf. Regt., and got his wish of being officially attached to an infantry company. The assignment meant Pantoja's role within the battalion would change dramatically.

Medics with infantry units have a unique relationship with their infantry counterparts, Morgan said.

"When we go out with the platoons, we eat, sleep and pull security with them," Morgan said.

So on June 10, 2006, when the Soldiers of 3rd Platoon, Co. B received direct fire from insurgent forces, Pantoja was right alongside his fellow Soldiers.

The platoon was positioned on a mountaintop observing a likely enemy movement point when the firefight broke out, said Army Pfc. Kyle A. Lewis, a M-240B machine gunner with 3rd Platoon.

"It was one of my first missions with the platoon," said Lewis, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. "It was quiet, and next thing I knew, 10 feet in front of my truck, a rocket propelled grenade hit and bullets started flying by."

What ensued was one of the largest battles the 2-87th Inf. Regt. had been involved in during their deployment, said Pantoja.

"They had two squads of fire, and they were trying to maneuver on us," said Spc. James N. Murray, a grenadier with 3rd Platoon. "It was a pretty well organized attack."

Shortly after the start of the firefight, the platoon had sustained injuries, Pantoja said.

"A gunner ran up to me and said two of our guys were hit," he said.

Pantoja ran up to the two injured troopers and began to administer aid.

"I started to patch them up and to pull them over to cover," Pantoja said. "The firing got more intense then."

It was at this point, carrying the second Soldier to cover, that Pantoja sustained a gunshot wound to the face.

"I just felt my head turn, but it didn't want to turn. I thought I was dead," he said. "I just finished carrying the second guy to cover, and kept on treating the guys."

Lewis, who received shrapnel wounds to the hand during the attack, remembers Pantoja running up to treat him, showing signs of his injury.

"He had blood all over his face and he ran up to treat my finger," he said.

From then on, Pantoja would continue on with his mission injured.
"He was running around with a huge gash on his face, treating all the casualties," said Murray.

The Soldiers on the ground encouraged Pantoja to tend to himself and take cover, but Pantoja continued to administer aid to his injured platoon members.

In all, 12 Soldiers were injured, three of them seriously.

As Pantoja helped carry the seriously injured to an incoming MEDEVAC helicopter, several servicemembers tried to evacuate him as well. Pantoja refused their suggestions that he leave, he said.

"There was no other medic out there, so who else was going to help my guys?" Pantoja asked. "I didn't want to leave them without a medic on the ground."

When the firefight ended, the platoon took the remaining wounded and headed back to their base.

Pantoja finally sought medical attention for himself upon his return to base.

"The bleeding had stopped, but there was blood all over his face," Morgan said. "He was more worried about all the other Soldiers."

It took 18 stitches to close the wound, and a small scar below his left eye can still be seen today.

Looking back on the incident, Pantoja still isn't sure why he acted in the way he did.

"I still don't know why I did it, but they were my guys," he said. "When you're a medic you have a bond with these guys."

Pantoja was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with a Valor Device and received the Purple Heart for his actions.

"He's probably one of the best medics I've ever worked with in 13 years in the Army," said Morgan. "And it's one of the bravest acts I've seen in a long time."

11 March 2013

The 7th Annual Blankets of Hope Marathon

The annual 'Marathon', created by Lisa Dodson and Matt Dick, took place again this year at the Ascension Church Hall in Bowie, MD. On January 26, 2013, the community gathered for the seventh year in a row to make Blankets of Hope for wounded and ill service members medevaced from Afghanistan to Landstuhl hospital in Germany. The blankets have been sent to the Soldiers' Angels chapter at Landstuhl for distribution to the patients.

Putting the marathon together involves months of dedication and effort - planning, publicity, organization, and fundraising. Lisa and Matt would like to thank everyone in the community who donated time, fabric, and funding.

This year, the Marathon had a very special guest: A local Soldier who had received one of their blankets after being wounded in Afghanistan, 1st Lt. Joseph Muldoon III.

From Alan J. McCombs of the Gazette.Net:

Volunteers working on the Blankets of Hope project by the charity Soldiers’ Angels, which is based in Pasadena, Calif., presented a fleece blanket as well as sports memorabilia from the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins football teams to 1st Lt. Joseph Muldoon III on Jan. 26 at Bowie’s Ascension Church.

Muldoon is undergoing physical therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and could not be reached for comment.

For Muldoon, a graduate of DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, it was the second blanket he received from the group. Muldoon’s spine was shattered and his left arm mangled when an improvised explosive device blew up the armored vehicle he was riding inside June 27, 2012, in Afghanistan. Muldoon, a member of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, had deployed from Fort Bliss to Afghanistan in October 2011.

Following the injury, Muldoon was flown to the Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where he received a blanket from the Bowie branch of the Blankets of Hope program, said Helene Muldoon, Joseph’s mother.

Joseph Muldoon is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, which is given for heroic and meritorious service and the Purple Heart, which is given to those who are injured in combat.

Muldoon was flown back to the United States on July 6, and he gave away his blanket to another soldier, Helene Muldoon said.

1st Lt. Joseph Muldoon III, who was wounded in Afghanistan last year, with some of the volunteers of the 7th Annual Blankets of Hope Marathon in Bowie, MD. Muldoon, a Bowie resident, received his second blanket from the group at the event.

Volunteers with the Bowie branch of the program heard of Muldoon’s donation and arranged for him to receive a second blanket at the group’s annual blankets of hope marathon blanket making session at Ascension Church in Bowie. About 275 blankets were made during the seven-hour session, said Lisa Dodson, one of the coordinators of the Bowie project.

“He’s very humble. He doesn’t really consider himself a hero. He considers his men heroes,” said Helene Muldoon. “I think sometimes he gets overwhelmed with the emotion people show.”

Since 2006, the group has made hundreds of fleece blankets that are distributed to injured soldiers in Germany, a frequent stop for wounded soldiers before returning to the U.S., said Valerie Potter, a blanket program coordinator.

It’s rare for the group, which had about 175 volunteers Jan. 26 to meet a recipient of one of their blankets, Dodson said.

“He was so humble,” said Dodson, a Bowie resident. “He (visited the group) because it was such validation for what we had done.”

The pile of finished blankets.

Some of the Blankets of Hope made by volunteers at the 7th Annual Marathon after arrival at Landstuhl military hospital in Germany.

On behalf of our wounded warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center I'd like to thank Lisa and Matt for their leadership, the rest of the organization team for their efforts, and all of the participants for their patriotism and compassion.

Congratulations on another successful Marathon!

06 March 2013

Wounded warrior unexpectedly meets Medic who saved him during Op Proper Exit II

Retired Army Sgt. Brian C. Fleming, left, and Staff Sgt. Michael A. Stagg, clinic operations noncommissioned officer in-charge for the Troop Medical Clinic on Camp, Arifijan Kuwait, pose with “Nuts”, a beanie baby who survived with them after a suicide bomber attacked their vehicle in Afghanistan, July 2006. Fleming and Stagg were unexpectedly reunited when Operation Proper Exit II brought Fleming through Camp Arifjan, March 4. (U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Ashley M. Outler, Third Army/ARCENT Public Affairs)

From Sgt. Ashley Outler of Third Army/ARCENT Public Affairs:

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait—Nearly six years after being pulled from the wreckage of an explosion in Afghanistan, a survivor was unexpectedly reunited with his rescuer at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 4.

When Staff Sgt. Michael A. Stagg last saw retired Army Sgt. Brian C. Fleming, dazed and burnt lying in a hospital bed, he couldn’t imagine ever seeing him again.

It was either fate or coincidence that they happened to recognize each other in passing on Fleming’s stop in Kuwait from Afghanistan while he was on Operation Proper Exit II.

“Operation Proper Exit is about bringing wounded warriors back into the warzone and leaving on our own terms,” said Fleming. “I didn’t have any one reason to go on the trip because I never felt I really had any issues with closure. I never felt like I left anything there. Now, I really believe, the whole reason I came was to walk past my friend on the way back.”

Fleming and Stagg were able to confront some of their demons by sharing terrifying memories of the experience that brought them together that day in July 2006.

They had deployed with 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, and were traveling with two others down Highway 1, near Kandahar province, Afghanistan, when a white minivan they were passing exploded, shooting shards of shrapnel through their Humvee and showering it in white phosphorus.

“I was in the passenger seat and the (vehicle borne improvise explosive devise) detonated about three-feet from me,” said Fleming who was an infantryman at the time. “The blast completely destroyed the vehicle and put about a two-foot crater in the highway.”

Stagg, who was the only medic in the vehicle, recalls being the only person coherent enough to respond.

“My instincts just set in,” said Stagg about his reaction after the explosion. “I knew it was time to do my job.”

Stagg carefully maneuvered around the phosphorus to pull Fleming and the other two passengers from the vehicle before the fire progressed.

“I don’t really remember anything until the point when I was laying down in the dirt, after Stagg had gotten me out,” said Fleming, who was treated for second-degree burns on his neck and face and third-degree burns on his hands. “It really hurt.
They told me to calm down, but I was in pain and I was angry.”

Fleming had taken the brunt of the white phosphorus, a substance capable of burning through bone, insoluble to water and fueled by air. There was not much Stagg could offer him for treatment.

“I was like, ‘keep yelling man,’ because that’s how I knew his airway was fine,” said Stagg, who could only ease Fleming’s pain by shielding him from the grueling desert sun.

Exhausted, Stagg breathed a sigh of relief when an Apache helicopter flew over the horizon because then he knew they would be okay.

“This guy is a bona fide hero,” said Fleming, who was glad to have the chance to show Stagg his gratitude in person. “I don’t know where I would be if he didn’t pull me from that vehicle. He absolutely saved my life.”

Through their reunion, both Stagg and Fleming discovered that sharing their experiences and feelings in the aftermath of the attack would help to heal internal wounds.

“Nothing in my army career would’ve prepared me for that. And to be the only medic, had I froze, all four of us could’ve been killed,” said Stagg, a native of Harrington, Del. “I was lucky enough to walk away with just a little bruise and some nightmares. My bell was rung I’ll tell you that much.”

Talking with Fleming also allowed Stagg a chance to settle a painful guilt that has plagued him.

“That morning I was suppose to be on the gun but, being that I knew the way to Kandahar and was the only medic, we decided that I would drive and I put that private on the gun. It’s heavy when you’re in a leadership position and you make a decision and people end up hurt because of it,” said Stagg, holding back tears. “But to hear Fleming say, ‘you did the right thing and it wasn’t your fault,’ really means so much.”

Fleming now lives in Celina, Texas, and is an author and motivational speaker, while Stagg, works at Camp, Arifjan Kuwait, as the clinic operations noncommissioned officer in-charge of the Troop Medical Clinic. They agreed that no matter how far apart they are, they would always be linked by that traumatic experience.

“Once something like that happens, you get rocketed, mortared, or hit with a VBID or anything like that and survive, you instantly have a bond that no one can break,” said Stagg. “It’s just a horrible time that you share, you can relate to each other and feel open. I can tell him everything hands down and I know that he won’t pass judgment on me because he knows, he’s been there.”

Their reunion offered both Stagg and Fleming a chance to close the door on the memories of their last encounter with a proper exit and open a door for new and better ones.

What remanded of the vehicle that Staff Sgt. Michael A. Stagg pulled retired Army Sgt. Brian C. Fleming from after it was attacked by a suicide bomber in July, 2006. Stagg, a clinic operations noncommissioned officer in-charge for the Troop Medical Clinic on Camp, Arifijan Kuwait, and Fleming were unexpectedly reunited when Operation Proper Exit II brought Fleming through Camp Arifjan, March 4. (Courtesy photo)

Wounded warrior tries out for Dodgers

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In Arizona, where spring training for major league baseball is underway, 27-year-old Daniel ‘Doc’ Jacobs is defying the odds to make the big leagues. A Purple Heart recipient who underwent 50 surgeries in two years, Jacobs eventually became one of the first Navy amputees to return to active duty. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

03 March 2013

Operation Proper Exit II - Afghanistan

Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry returns the salute of a Ready First Soldier, Feb. 27, 2013, at Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan. Petry returned to Afghanistan with eight other wounded warriors to speak with service members and leave the country on his own terms under Operation Proper Exit II. Photo: Sgt. Uriah Walker, RC(S) Public Affairs.

By Sgt. Uriah Walker, RC(S) Public Affairs:

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Seven Soldiers and two Marines injured during combat operations traveled to several locations in Afghanistan, including Kandahar Airfield and Camp Nathan Smith, to see the progress being made in the country that changed many of their lives forever.

Prosthetics and scars are physical reminders of the sacrifices service members make nearly every day in the ongoing overseas contingency operations. What can't be seen, are the mental and emotional scars endured by the brutal lessons of combat that can be as debilitating as a missing limb.

Through Operation Proper Exit, an initiative of Feherty's Troops First Foundation which provides support for wounded warriors injured and medically evacuated out of theater, service members who are capable of returning are afforded the opportunity to see the progress first hand and exit the country again on their own terms.

Of the nine service members visiting with OPE II, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Glen Silva is the only one on his second trip with the organization. Silva suffered an above-knee amputation of his left leg, along with several other injuries, Oct. 12, 2010, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Silva describes the event as frustrating, "I started yelling at my men to set up a perimeter as I tried to get up. I remember getting mad at myself because I couldn't get to my feet and I didn't know why."

That's when one of his Marines jumped on top of him to keep him from moving, and the reality of the event started to set in.

"I started to assess myself and as I looked around I could see my leg about 20 feet away," he said. "I closed my eyes for a moment and told myself to remain calm. I opened my eyes and calmly told my Marine to start applying tourniquets."

Silva's recovery at Bethesda National Military Medical Center wasn't certain at first. His heart stopped on one occasion, and he recounts the episode by saying, "Kill me or let me live, I don't want to put my daughter through this."

The faded silhouette of his daughter at his bedside set his mind to live.

After numerous surgeries, physical therapy and being fitted for a prosthetic leg, Silva is doing everything he can to get the most out of life.

"I live life to the fullest and I make the most of what I have," he said. "I still ride my Harley and I still jump out of airplanes. Every day is a new challenge and I wake up happy every day."

For retired Army Sgt. Brian Flemming, Kandahar Airfield is a mere 7km from where a vehicle borne improvised explosive device detonated three feet from him.

"When I awoke in a ditch on the side of the road in Kandahar, Afghanistan -- burned and bloody -- and thought my life was at its end, I asked myself two questions," Flemming says on his website. "'What did I do for others? Did my life matter?'"

"That suicide bomber was the best thing to happen to me," he continued.

The blast left Flemming with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his hands, neck and face. He spent 14 months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, recovering from his physical, emotional and mental wounds. What he discovered while there is that there is no such thing as a mass produced solution.

What he has concluded is that, "Post-traumatic stress is an individual event. Everyone deals with it differently. Familiarity breeds contentment. Help someone get to a place where they can discover their own answers."

This statement is what drives Flemming to help other injured service members every day. He reaches out through his website and public speaking. According to his website, to date, he has personally mentored over 1,000 combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the areas of business, marriage and family, how to effectively battle post-traumatic stress, faith and resiliency.

Resiliency was a common theme among all nine wounded warriors on this trip. Regardless of the severity of their physical injuries, each one repeatedly echoed how important it was to stay connected and remain positive always moving forward.

Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry spoke about his injuries; physical, emotional and mental.

"Everyone sees my prosthetic hand, but most don't know that I was also shot in the leg," said Petry. "My leg gives me more problems than my arm. Coming back here has really helped me. It's twofold. It helps me and I can take what I've seen and experienced back and share."

During a discussion with Silva about the mental recovery of injured service members, he stated that staying connected and not losing a sense of who you are remain the two largest factors to successfully move forward with recovery.

He went on to explain the hardest thing about the process is not having a sense of being.

"Your place at the dinner table is taken away," said Silva. "You're treated as a patient instead of a Marine, Soldier or service member. The doctors would call me 'Mr. Silva.' One day I looked at one of them and told them, 'My name is Staff Sgt. Silva.'"

He also offered two pieces of advice when working with wounded warriors.

"Support from the unit is vital, they are your family," he said. "Don't be afraid to approach a wounded warrior. That's how they learn (to deal with their injury) and don't treat me like a patient."

Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson, Regional Command-South and Third Infantry Division command sergeant major, shares a few words with Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, Feb. 28, 2013, before boarding a flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Silva is visiting with Operation Proper Exit II to speak with deployed service members and leave the country on his own terms under Operation Proper Exit II. Photo: Sgt. Uriah Walker, RC(S) Public Affairs.