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Entries in Iraq (2)


Fighting For Rights and Breaking Down Barriers

 War is vicious, brutal and traumatizing, and never is there a true “winner.”  Everyone loses to some degree – one just needs to look at the growing number of wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the killed in action, the suicide rates and the broken families to see that.  Or a short walk past the Vietnam Wall Memorial, which will certainly reduce anyone to tears, is perhaps the most poignant reminder of loss from war.


Veterans from all wars have seen their share of atrocities, but at least today’s warriors have been welcomed home with open arms.  As we all (hopefully) know, that wasn’t the case forty years ago.  Those veterans had nowhere near the resources we have today, although there are still many individuals and families falling through the cracks.   There have been, however, a number of very significant medical and legislative advancements after the wars in Vietnam, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, which have benefited individual service members and our society as a whole. 


It is no secret that disabled veterans coming home from Vietnam played a significant role in the passage of the groundbreaking U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973.   This critical legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.  Certainly the disability movement did not start with the Vietnam veterans, but they were young, fresh off the battlefield and much more demanding and visible than civilians who had been born with their conditions and more prone to seeking privacy.   Then, as now, veterans and veterans groups were active and effective in lobbying for help. Ultimately, governmental and private assistance to our veterans has influenced subsequent public policy toward civilian welfare measures and toward the disabled in general.


Similarly, today’s generation of warfighters have truly helped shine a spotlight on the issue of behavioral health, an issue relevant to civilians as well as members of the military.  A 2008 RAND study of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars concluded that nearly 1 in every 5 veterans is suffering from one or more behavioral health disorders, and that many of those afflicted do not receive adequate care. The study shows that mental disorders are both prevalent and long-lasting, and that often they do not surface until well after the initial trauma has passed.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are commonly referred to as the “signature wounds” of today’s wars.  In fact, the American public seems so aware of this phenomenon that any number of popular television shows feature story lines of veterans facing these injuries, including Law and Order, Person of Interest, Army Wives and Grey’s Anatomy.  Thus, this generation has played an integral role in raising the national dialogue on mental and behavioral health – if we can continue to reduce the stigma of these issues within the military culture, this will certainly benefit our society as a whole. This is especially critical because closely linked with these maladies are the issues of drug and alcohol addiction, depressive disorders and suicide, all of which exist (as do PTSD and TBI) throughout society.

The veterans from the Vietnam War have pledged that never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.  They have paved the way for today’s warriors with regard to many of the rights we now enjoy, and in so doing they have also benefited our society as a whole.  Our service members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families as well, have also contributed significantly to medical advancements as more and more of us survive catastrophic injuries.  Within the military community, we need to continue to be open about injuries and treatments – not only with this help those on the front lines, but many more so throughout our society.


You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are

Author Bob Drury wrote an article in Men's Health in 2007 that focused on the challenges faced by our Wounded Warriors as they return from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.  He followed up recently with an article in the Men's Health online magazine about Corpsman George Grant's perspective on what happened the day he saved my life.  And then last week he wrote a blog post about what I thought about George and how calm under pressure he was.


During my inspirational speaking, I often tell people that they are stronger than they think they are.  This is certainly true of George Grant.  When I was shot, his medical skills had not yet been tested to the degree they were that day.  I am sure he was very nervous when I was bleeding like crazy and he had a tiny window of time to save me.  But just like you, George is (and was that day!) stronger than he thinks he is - he dug down deep and performed perfectly.  Below is a reprint of the blog post.


I volunteered to deploy to Iraq in 2006, not because I agreed with the war effort but because the Marines were there.  I transferred to a Civil Affairs unit that was looking for officers for their deployment, and figured, how many lawyers get the chance to lead Marines in a combat environment?  Of course I was nervous, but excited to finally deploy.  I was a Civil Affairs Team Leader, and our small team trained hard that summer.  When we arrived in Iraq we were attached to Third Battalion, Second Marines, a Marine infantry battalion from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.


I remember checking in with the battalion leadership when I first got there, and can still picture the photographs of the young Marines on the wall in their headquarters building – Marines from the unit who had already been killed before I got there.  This was a unit that saw a lot of action.  I immediately became part of the Battalion Commander’s “jump team,” which is where I met Corpsman George Grant.  I know he and the other Marines were measuring me up for size on the first few humps we did together – long, draining marches in searing heat with over 50 pounds of armor plating, weapons and ammunition.  I held my own though, and knew that I had passed their test when they shared some of the Gatorade from their cooler at the end of a particularly long hump.


How many guys can point to a friend of theirs and say, “That guy saved my life.  Literally.”  Probably not many, but I am one of those guys.  George Grant saved my life in Iraq and we have been fast friends since then.  Right there on the battlefield George performed an emergency tracheotomy on me after I was shot in the head, and my plastic surgeon later said that George had done such a good job on it, that he thought another surgeon had actually performed the surgery.  Oh yeah, at the same time the sniper was still shooting at George and the other Marines, he was wearing all that protective gear I already described and if he wasted even a moment I would have died.


As an inspirational speaker, I often talk about my injury in Iraq, and what I learned from it that can apply to anybody facing challenges in their own lives.  And my favorite part of the speech is when I get to brag about George.  George is completely unassuming, probably uncomfortable with any extra attention he will get from this story, and would say that he was “just doing his job.”  In saving me though, he displayed the kind of courage that we read about in war novels, and he acted with complete disregard for his own life.


I was shot in October of 2006, and had a chance to reconnect with George in the Spring of 2007 when he and the rest of the battalion rotated back from Iraq to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  Because of other commitments, my wife and weren’t able to drive to Camp Lejeune from Virginia until the day the unit came back, and we had to get up at 4:00am the next morning to drive back, but we weren’t going to miss it for the world.  I have a great picture of me with George that I show every audience – you can tell from the picture that he is quiet, confident and just a good person.


Over the years George and I have stayed in touch over the phone, email and Facebook, and talking with him always brings a smile to my face.  But just a few weeks ago, my cousin orchestrated a long weekend for a handful of wounded warriors and their caregivers, and that included George as well.  We all had a wonderful time, and although I rarely pass up the chance to play golf, I did the second day we were there so that George and I could lounge by the pool, catch up and laugh about when I first “fell in” with the unit.


We laughed about first impressions, and also talked about the more serious aspects of war.  George is introspective, contemplative and a person who feels things strongly.  I am proud to be a friend of his, and extremely lucky that he was with us on October 18, 2006.  Otherwise I am certain I wouldn’t be here to write this.