For veterans by veterans
By Tech. Sgt. Gloria Wilson
CAMP MOREHEAD, Afghanistan (Courtesy of CJSOTF-A Media Center, Aug. 31, 2010) – The average person would never guess the story behind the funny, easy-going guy with the missing teeth. Quick to smile and quick to joke, his laid-back attitude tends to put people at ease, so being asked what happened to his mouth is common.
“So are you missing teeth from a bar fight or hockey accident,” asked a U.S. Navy medic upon first meeting the 3rd Special Forces Group team member with the semi-toothless grin.
“Neither, I got blown up,” said the U.S. Special Forces sergeant first class.
The person who asked him did an immediate double take and apologized, but the 3rd Group team member currently serving his fourth tour in Afghanistan waved it off and said it’s no big deal, no need for an apology.
Although to some it’s a big deal, stories of enemy contact—whether it’s improvised explosive devices, small arms fire, or other—is almost common place amongst 3rd Group and other USSF units. But that doesn’t change the fact that each battle and each attack has an impact on someone’s life.
The impact for one person may be physical, such as someone losing a limb or even their life. Or the impact may be mental, such as needing to retire because of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or a renewal of fortitude to get back into the fight because it’s what you signed up to do.
“It never crossed my mind to get out of the military after what happened,” said the green beret. “Every time I go out on a mission I know there’s a possibility that I could die, but it’s just an occupational hazard.”
“People die,” he said, “it’s a contact sport, so sometimes people get hurt.”
The incident in which this father of two young children “got blown up” occurred spring of 2008, west of Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the convoy he was in was hit with a massive IED. The attack killed two people and injured several others.
From his perspective everything happened at record speed since the blast rendered him unconscious. One moment they were driving and the next moment his face was being stitched up in a hospital. But the stitches were only an immediate fix and since that fateful day, he has had seven surgeries to repair the damage.
His upper jaw was mostly destroyed, he was missing some of his lips, and his nose needed work. They had to do bone grafts and other reconstructive surgery to fix the damage and the end result is how he looks now; a normal guy who happens to be missing some teeth because he played one too many hockey games.
In addition to the surgeries, this self-proclaimed military brat has also had six months of physical therapy, one year of cognitive therapy, and a year of Traumatic Brain Injury rehabilitation. He’s still prone to aching joints, pain and memory gaps, but after a year of poking and prodding, it was time to rejoin his comrades and fulfill his obligation.
“In this community [SF] you have to get back out there,” he said. “There’s a personal discipline involved and it’s not about you, it’s about the team—you have to hop back in the saddle.”
His viewpoint is that no one should feel sorry for soldiers because they made a conscious, voluntary decision to serve. Some people may consider him insensitive for feeling that way, but those who know him understand that it’s not insensitivity, instead it boils down to professional pride and integrity.
Although “part of the job,” he added that it doesn’t make the sacrifice of those who have given their lives, limbs, or service to their country any less significant and he will always remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. His social networking site has a page dedicated to fallen friends where there is a photo for each comrade with their name, unit and the country they died in.
Not letting their deaths prevent him from continuing on and completing the mission is a way to honor them, versus belittling their sacrifice by giving up, he said.
This solider who reenlisted indefinitely despite what he’s been through said that it has to do with him believing in what he does and feeling that his actions, and those of the people he fights alongside, are making a difference.
“USSF are force multipliers who in a conventional war spend time behind enemy lines, but here in Afghanistan we’ve had to adapt because there are no lines,” he said. “It’s about counter-insurgency (COIN), which we contribute to directly, and we’ve helped develop this host nation to practice COIN as well. There has been progress and we’ve had a part in helping that along on this deployment.”
His team’s mission for this rotation was to create the Afghan National Army Special Forces, a new addition to Afghanistan’s military. As one of the lead mentors and creators for the course ANASF recruits go through, this 12-year veteran said he loves his job because they’ve help create something lasting.
“We deployed the first Afghan National Army Special Forces unit ever and recently graduated a second class. Now there are Afghans doing what we used to do,” he said. “It’s no longer about us going into villages to be amongst the people, it’s their own people doing it—not the perceived American infidel—and that is something I believe in because it works for this country [Afghanistan].”
Believing in what you do and loving your job is important and this dedicated SF member’s commitment has greatly contributed to him being able to get back into that saddle and continue to be an integral part of his team. Next in store for this quick-to-smile, quick-to-joke SF sergeant is a trip home as he nears the end of his rotation.
Once back in the states, teeth and relocating his jaw are still on the agenda, so chances are when he smiles on his next deployment, it will be with a full set of teeth and his amazing story will be even harder for someone to guess.