Formerly wounded Soldiers mentor service members at JBB
Story and photos by Sgt. John Stimac
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Eight Soldiers who sustained injuries during previous deployments returned to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, April 9 for Operation Proper Exit V.
The Soldiers, some visiting for a second or third time, came to tell the stories behind their injuries and recoveries during a town-hall style meeting at Morale, Welfare and Recreation center east.
Retired Sgt. Juan Arrendondo, an infantry noncommissioned officer and a Coachella, Calif., native, said this was his first time back in Iraq since 2005 when he was injured.
"It has been very emotional, but very rewarding," he said. "I came back to give a message that everything we're doing here is for something good."
Col. Knowles Y. Atchison, the deputy commander with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and an Oresville, Ala., native, said he was deeply honored that the Soldiers came.
"You have honored us here today," he said. "You remind all of us why we're here. There is nothing more powerful."
Atchison thanked them for their thoughts and the guidance they shared with the audience.
"Please keep being involved," he said. "You are the firepower where we need it most – in the ranks of our younger Soldiers.
Retired Staff Sgt. Brian Neuman, previously with B Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion attached to 1st Marine Division and a Portsmouth, R.I., native, said he came to Iraq to give back to the service members.
"It was also a chance for me to see what Iraq is like now, and see that our sacrifices have paid off," he said.
Neuman said he wanted to use his experience to make the deployment worth it for service members in Iraq now.
"If just one private first class that came here takes something back with them, then my time here was worth it," he said.
Neuman said it was surreal coming back to Iraq after five years, and was surprised by all the progress that has been made.
"As I was flying over Fallujah in the helicopter and seeing all those buildings being erected, it made me feel that we actually accomplished something over here," he said.
He and his fellow visitors were surprised by all of the new military equipment and technology in Iraq, he said, and by how much has changed.
Neuman was injured when an explosively formed projectile struck his Bradley M2A3 Tracked – Armored Fighting vehicle near Fallujah.
His left arm was amputated below the elbow and he sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs and his right arm.
Neuman said body armor saved his life, but he was in the hospital for nine months recovering.
Capt. Ingrid Welsh, the equal opportunity adviser with the 36th Sustainment Brigade,13th SC(E) out of Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, and a Lampasas, Texas, native, said she was glad she had an opportunity to come to JBB to witness the visit because, being a National Guard Soldier, she may not get this opportunity again.
"It was interesting for me to see how they coped with losing limbs and the mental stress they underwent," she said. "How they overcame all of that with the help of other Soldiers and their care providers."
Welsh said she has followed one of the bills recently passed to help Soldiers get prosthetics and the care they need.
"By listening to them and seeing them, I think they are definitely being helped out," she said.
Arrendondo said the government has assisted wounded Veterans like himself tremendously, and continues to do so.
"My hand cost $25,000," he said. "We get to try out all the new toys, as far as prosthetics go. If we break it, they give us something better."
Since being back, Arrendondo said he has not heard any gunfire or explosions, a change from five years ago.
"I was telling everybody on the way over here that now I finally have the chance to walk out of here on my own two feet," he said. "This will give me a lot of closure."
Arrendondo said this event would not be possible without the help of the Troops First Foundation and the United Services Organization, which founded Operation Proper Exit.
"I want to thank them, along with the Army, for helping make this all happen," he said.
Soldiers with the Wounded Warrior Program are introduced to service members April 9 during Operation Proper Exit V, at Morale ,Welfare and Recreation center east at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The visit was part of a weeklong tour that is sponsored by the Troops First Foundation in conjunction with the United Services Organization and United States Forces –Iraq.