Wounded Warriors: Part Two

GERMANY (WIS) - Twenty-three thousand soldiers have been wounded since the War on Terror began in 2001. For many, the injuries are visible. But now WIS is taking you inside the wounds you can't see - the hidden scars soldiers face on the home front.

When war wounded arrive in Germany, they see the chaplain. Chaplain Echert thanks the soldiers, "for your service and sacrifice. We're going to take good care of you here."

Care includes prayer. According to the chaplain, "There are not too many atheists in fox holes. You don't find too many in hospitals either."

And care also includes quilts. The chaplain gives one to Ron, "This is handmade from some folks in Charleston. It's got a little note on here."

Ron is a Las Vegas National Guardsmen who's first overcome by emotion as he receives the quilt - then frustration, both common symptoms of the injury one doctor said will be the lasting legacy of this war.

As WIS' Craig Melvin walked the halls of Landstuhl Regional in Germany, one of the things that struck him most was the sheer number of wounded soldiers with brain injuries.

Florence native and Claflin University graduate Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Dubois is chief of social work there. About a year ago, Dubois started screening every injured soldier for traumatic brain injuries. "It causes some temporary dysfunction. They can lose consciousness. They have a concussion. They experience dizziness, headaches, loss of memory."

That's mild TBI. The military says one in three wounded soldiers suffer from it. Doctor Steven Flagherty is the chief of surgery and trauma. "What causes that, we are not entirely sure in all cases."

While the causes of mild TBI seem to be a mystery of sorts, there's no question about what causes severe brain injuries.

Army Specialist Jarrod Pounds tells Craig, "I don't remember the explosion. I just remember being pulled from the rubble by all my buddies."

"I felt something hit my face and everything kind of happened in slow motion. I hear the big explosion. I see the flash, and I felt something running down my cheek," says Abe Herling. "The IED was behind the guardrail."

TBIs have become the signature injury of the War on Terror because improvised explosive devices have become the signature weapon.

One in five wounded soldiers have severe TBI, meaning they will never fully recover and will be forced to live with some type of brain defect.

Doctors say therapy can help people cope with the life changes, but therapy won't repair the damage. Brain damage is forever.

Surprisingly, IED blasts and shoot-outs with insurgents land just as many soldiers in the hospital as accidents. Dr. Flagherty explains, "When the soldiers get a chance to have some down time, they get injuries from playing sports."

"It's crazy how it happened," says Walterboro native and Army sergeant Kashta Campbell. Campbell was playing basketball in Iraq. "I played an entire game and then I took one step back and I heard a pop, and I just fell to the ground."

Some accidents are more serious.

"Pretty much, my tibia's gone. I think they said the fibula's in one piece, but the tibia pretty much doesn't exist anymore," says Army specialist Andrew Harriman. Harriman was on the ramp of a Chinook helicopter in Iraq when a gun went off. "I got about a five or six-round burst right through my leg."

Doctors say they'll be able to save Harriman's leg, but many lose theirs. One doctor tells Craig, "Clearly the most prevalent is injuries to the extremities, far and away. And of that, there have been a lot of amputations."

The Department of Defense says nearly 800 soldiers have had at least one arm or leg amputated since the War on Terror began. That's the double the rate of amputations performed in Vietnam.

But many more soldiers who would have died in previous wars live now. Those who make it, regardless of their condition, say they want to get home, get better, and get back to war. "If my people are there, then that's where I want to be, wherever my guys are," says Campbell.

When asked why, Pounds says, "My platoon's over there. It's kind of like you're on a baseball team. You don't want to miss the game. You want to be there."

That indomitable spirit was one of the things that struck Craig and the crew most.

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted by Chantelle Janelle