Posted by Wordsmith on 30 June, 2009 at 10:05 am. 1 comment.


Left to right; U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Brown, retired Staff Sgt. Bradley Gruetzner, and Sgt. Christopher A. Burrell, soldiers wounded in combat while deployed to Iraq, walk through “Hero’s Highway” at Air Force Theater Hospital before returning to Camp Victory after a visit to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, June 25, 2009. Brown, Gruetner, Burrell, and four other soldiers had the opportunity to return to Iraq and to visit the places they once served. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brian A. Barbour

As combat troops withdraw from major cities in Iraq, in victory, and in accordance with Article 5 of the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, Operation Proper Exit brought 6 wounded warriors back to Iraq for closure and to see the progress that has been gained:

”It kind of helps you heal mentally and emotionally, to close that chapter in your life so you can move on,” he said. ”The progress that’s been made—it shows that we made a sacrifice but it was for a reason.”

The six veterans, who were accompanied by civilians with the Troops First Foundation, toured the Air Force theater hospital here, speaking with medical personnel. Most of the soldiers received some kind of treatment at the hospital before they moved to Germany for further medical care.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal Hogan, a nurse here, said he remembers providing medical care for two of the soldiers during a previous deployment in 2007.

”It’s awesome,” he said, hugging one of his former patients, ”to know that people made it—he’s alive, walking around. That means a lot to me.”

Following the hospital tour, the veterans participated in a town hall-style meeting, which began with a standing ovation by about 200 soldiers at a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility here.

After telling the audience their personal war stories, the veterans fielded questions ranging from how they dealt with physical recovery to post traumatic stress disorder to their long-term goals.

Sgt. Robert Brown, who lost his right leg to sniper fire in September 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, said he is training to qualify for the U.S. rowing team at the 2012 Paralympic games in London.

Near the end of the meeting, a young soldier stood up and asked them, with everything they’ve experienced, if they would be willing to return for another tour in Afghanistan or Iraq.

All six nodded.

”Sure, we’d go back,” one said. “We’re here with you right now, aren’t we?”

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