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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Two Years in the Life of a Soldier

A detailed piece from the Dayton Daily News:

For two years Elizabeth Bowen watched her husband, Ryan, endure more than 40 surgeries, frequent nightmares and the devastating effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. ...

It was Oct. 26 and Ryan already had been in Georgia for six weeks, much of it spent waiting for word from the Army medical board that would determine his level of disability for injuries he received when a roadside bomb exploded under his tank in Baghdad during his second tour.

The 24-year-old Army specialist had just said goodbye to friends heading to Iraq for a third tour. "Some of these guys I've known since the first time," he said. Back in his hotel room, his mind began racing. He started pacing, hyperventilating.

Then he began to cry.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


Sept. 16, 2005

Bowen was the gunner in the last of three M1A1 Abrams tanks patrolling a dangerous section of Baghdad. "There are two guys behind the berm. Keep an eye on them," barked a soldier in the first tank.

The first two tanks passed safely. Bowen's didn't. He awakened in the dirt, pinned beneath a critically wounded soldier.

Bowen, a 2001 Tecumseh High School graduate, was seriously injured, too — with a lacerated liver and a compression fracture in his back. But he was aware enough to know he didn't have on protective body armor. And he had no weapon.

"I was thinking, 'I can't afford to get shot,' " he recalled. "I was talking to myself the whole time: 'You're going to live. You're going to live. Everything is fine.'"

Despite a large shrapnel wound to his left thigh, he was able to move behind a chunk of the destroyed tank. As he scanned for insurgents, his leg gave out. For 10 minutes, not sure of what was around him, he played dead. Finally, Bowen heard the voice of a soldier who had been in one of the other tanks. They'd returned to help the wounded. ...

Elizabeth had no training for what she was about to endure.

On the day her husband nearly died, she didn't hear from him for about 12 hours. When he finally called after 7 that evening, he was heavily sedated — and in Balad. There he underwent surgeries for a perforated liver and ruptured kidney, then spent 11 days at a military hospital in Germany. Elizabeth wouldn't see him again until he was moved to the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Gordon, Ga.

His medical problems were far from over. His damaged liver developed pockets of infection, causing bile to leak into his stomach — a problem that initially went undetected. Feeling her husband would be better off home in Fairborn with family nearby, she worked to have him moved to Wright-Patterson Medical Center. ...

From that first surgery through this past July, Bowen underwent 40 surgeries at Wright-Patterson, an unusual arrangement given that Bowen isn't in the Air Force. "Normally, we would not see an Army person assigned to an Air Force facility for two years," said Lisa Kliebert-Witt, a public affairs spokeswoman for the 88th Medical Group at the base.

Even Col. Thomas Palmer, the medical center's deputy commander, got to know the young soldier well.

"He'd always come down there and ask if I needed anything," recalled Bowen, who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. "One day I was joking around about the little TVs because I couldn't see that good. My eyesight was blurry. And I woke up from one surgery and there's a big TV right there, with a remote."

But the two years Bowen spent moving toward medical retirement would be marked by frustration with long bureaucratic delays, missed Army paychecks and frequent changes in mental health doctors — many of whom would have to leave on their own overseas deployments.

Bowen and his wife would see the best of the military system and the worst. And military officials would see the worst of him.

As is often the case with severe injuries, PTSD also may rear its head. For Bowen, it was no different.

Bowen displayed classic symptoms: Trouble sleeping. Sudden anger or irritability. Difficulty concentrating. Nightmares haunted his sleep. In one recurring dream, he was being shipped back to Iraq and had to argue with his commanders that he couldn't go because he was injured.

Elizabeth said Ryan would sometimes go days without sleeping. Doctors prescribed Seroquel, a powerful sedative. He was also on antidepressant Zoloft. Even so, she watched him spiral into a deep depression. It fell to her to get him out of bed in the morning, and to make sure he was taking all his medications.

Bowen began drinking more, often during the day while his wife was in Springfield, where she worked as a pharmacy technician. "I never had nightmares when I was drunk," he explained.

Elizabeth's grandmother, Cyrena Henson of Fairborn, was disturbed by the changes she saw in Ryan. The "pleasant, happy-go-lucky person" she remembered had lost his sparkle.

Please read the rest -- there is much, much more.

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