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Feature Stories

NEWS | March 14, 2017

Resilience: OPE Soldiers overcome battlefield injuries

By Sgt. Tom Wade U.S. Army Central

The smiles in this room can part any cloudy day. For each second of this celebration is etched deep inside one’s memory. Hours of grueling surgeries, physical therapy, sweat and tears has led to this moment. The return to the battlefield where life was instantly changed.

Wounded warriors, who are thriving in recovery, begin their journey to the site of the incident, March 14, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Operation Proper Exit gives these wounded veterans the unique opportunity to get closure by seeing firsthand the progress their sacrifice has made.

Their day began with a meet and greet, with currently deployed troops, before flying to the locations where they were injured.

“It was an improvised explosive device blast that was part of a daisy chain … that caused my injuries” said retired Army Sgt. Willard Hoyum, wheeled vehicle mechanic, formerly with A company, 307th Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. “The blast took out our scout truck … then a thousand meters back, the truck in front of my vehicle, then my vehicle.”

Hoyum paused while recalling the events of that day. Eleven people were injured during this incident, he stated, which is a scene he will never forget.

“The blast caused me to be paralyzed from the chest downward,” stated Hoyum, stopping to remember that moment in time. “Day to day it slowed me down a lot … but it gave me a big ego because I realize that if a 300 pound bomb couldn’t stop me, nothing could.”

Hoyum closed by stating that he did not want people to be upset all their life if they were hurt overseas. He also said if he had to do it all over again, he would do nothing different, because the bond shared amongst his fellow Soldiers, is what he signed up for.

Others around Hoyum agreed with his assessment of life. They echoed the message of moving forward resiliently in life, never staying stuck in the past.

“We were on a recon mission, to which I was in the passenger rear seat of an 1151 Humvee, when my injury occurred,” said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Randy Nantz, Special Forces communications sergeant, 5th Special Forces Group. “Our vehicle was struck by an explosively formed penetrator, causing me to lose my rear end.”

Not only did the EFP cause Nantz injury to his buttocks, the penetrator hit the fuel tank of their Humvee, spraying fuel on him and setting his legs and body on fire.

After someone rolled him to put the fire out, Nantz stated he checked his body to see what the EFP actually hit, and all he felt was the slickness of blood, in the rear of his pants. Over 22 percent of his body received third-degree burns, plus he received severe nerve damage to his left lower leg, which was later amputated.

“I was trying to say in my mind everything was all right, but it wasn’t,” Nantz said. “Being able to come back, speaking to others about the injury and going to the place where it occurred is a very healing process.”

These wounded warriors stories became a call to action, which propelled Rick Kell to co-sponsor the Troops First Foundation. Formed in 2009, its mission gives recovering Soldiers a chance to see firsthand the progress made in Iraq or Afghanistan, because of their sacrifices.

“This is the first of several town hall meetings to which these warriors will talk to the deployed Soldiers, telling their stories” said Rick Kell, executive director, Troops First Foundation. “This visit is more than just hearing inspiring stories, it’s their messaging to the Soldiers at Camp Arifjan … wanting them to succeed, because these warriors see them as their brothers.”

Moving forward resiliently was a statement reiterated by Kell, as well as the other speakers, to the audience. Resilience is one reason why retired Army Master Sgt. Leroy Petry received the Medal of Honor, for his actions that saved the lives of several Soldiers in Afghanistan, 2011.

“Programs like this gives courage to the Servicemember … allowing them to step into uncomfortable situations, such as going back into that same combat area to which they were injured,” said Petry, formerly with D company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. “After the town hall meetings, with deployed troops, these U.S. Army veterans will fly in and out of the battlefield, this time on their own terms.”