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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

An Independence Day Walk in the Shoes of One Returning Veteran

The very best of 4th of July wishes to you and yours -- and most especially to those troops and military family members who do not have the pleasure of each others' company again this year.

I thought it might be fitting to point you to a compelling piece of journalism in today's Philadelphia City Paper, one that takes us alongside one troubled Iraq veteran's road to dealing with his wartime injuries while living in one of the city's rougher neighborhoods. Not all of our returning troops return to the comfort and relative security of a sleepy bedroom community. Not all of our soldiers and Marines come home straight into the warm embrace of loved ones who've somehow managed to stick it out after endless deployments and separation and stress and strain.

This holiday, I'm keeping all of our military families -- no matter where they may be or be from -- in my thoughts as we celebrate the birth of our nation. Thank you for your sacrifices for Old Glory and for those fortunate to have lived on her shores.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From Philadelphia City Paper:

A small gang of insurgents hiding behind a red pickup truck off the side of the road had detonated the bomb. Then they opened fire. [Erik] Arroyo was jolted awake by the cracking of heavy machine guns and bullets whizzing over his head. He squirmed and pushed, but couldn't free his left foot.

Johnson, who Arroyo had radioed just seconds ago, was dead, his head nearly decapitated after it smashed into the Humvee's top frame. Arroyo looked around. "I felt blood coming down my face, my helmet was gone, my 9mm gun was gone, everything was gone," Arroyo, 27, recalls of that day. "Someone yelled for me to get the fuck out of there. I told them I couldn't. Someone ran over and pulled me out of the ditch."

They carried Arroyo to safety behind a parked Humvee, where he felt his face swelling. There were pieces of shrapnel lodged in his forehead and under his right eye. His leg twisted, Arroyo slid in and out of consciousness. Someone handed him a 9mm, which he held on his lap — just in case. He asked for a cigarette, and someone stuck one in his mouth, unlit.

REVERSAL OF MISFORTUNE: When Arroyo was young, he sold weed. That stopped when he got arrested. "They said they never wanted to see me doing that again," recalls Arroyo. They didn't, since he joined the Army instead. Jones unleashed his M240 on the insurgents, providing cover as a Black Hawk helicopter swept in, collected the dead and injured and flew back to the military hospital in Balad. "Arroyo should not be here," Jones said five months later. "It's only by the grace of God that he is. Arroyo should be dead."

Arroyo was transferred to a hospital in Germany, and on Feb. 4, he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he started grueling physical rehab and speech therapy classes. Doctors noticed that sudden sounds and surprises startled him, and diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Around the same time, Jennifer, his wife of about a year and a half, came to his bedside. Instead of offering consolation, she told Arroyo she was leaving him for a co-worker: That she no longer loved him, and wanted a divorce. They have joint custody of a 7-year-old daughter from Arroyo's previous relationship. Dasia is a friendly girl with tiny cornrows in her hair and a fondness for math class. He was devastated.

Two months later, Arroyo and seven other soldiers were awarded Purple Hearts during a ceremony in the hospital's auditorium. Walter Reed staff, two generals and hundreds of veterans from past wars — none personally knew Arroyo — turned out for the event. "It's an honor," he recently said, "I'd rather not have.

"At that point, I just wanted to go home to my daughter, my family, my familiar surroundings," he said. "I wanted to recover, and get back to life again. I wanted some peace."

He was discharged almost three months later, in late April. Instead of a M240 Bravo gun, the Army issued him a PDA. It keeps track of dozens of monthly appointments: behavioral therapy on Fridays, occupational therapy on Wednesdays and outpatient surgery on his sinuses in July. He takes eight medications: some to help him heal, some like Zoloft to keep him mentally stable.

Doctors said he couldn't live alone. He was given orders to remain at his parents' row house on Seventh and Tioga in the city's Nicetown section, the same house where he grew up. Being around family would make it harder to act on impulses, doctors said. It would protect him from his troubled marriage. It would protect him from himself.

Nobody said anything about his neighborhood.

Please read the rest.

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