Monday, June 2, 2008

Injured War Vet & Old Friend

It couldn't be, I thought. I hadn't seen the guy in several years. We served in the Army together well over a decade ago. Na, that was in another state completely, and I don't live near a military community. Besides, the guy I knew over a decade ago didn't have that scar over his eye.

It was amazing. It was Bryan Gray, our Battalion medic.

I shook his hand and smiled. I couldn't help but notice his left eye. It didn't move as fast as the other one and a scar ran all the way from his forehead, down his eye socket and onto his cheekbone.

"I know you," I said, excited to see an old, familiar face. He had the same expression while looking at me.

"Where was it...Korea?" I asked, then we both said "Fort Carson" [Colorado] together in union.

His handshake was flaccid. He soon told me that he couldn't move his thumb on his right hand. The whole hand was severely deformed and I noticed that he was missing his thumb on his other hand.

"This happened in Iraq," he said, holding up his hand and then pointing to the side of his asymmetrical and partially deformed face, "so I retired."

We spoke about old friends and acquaintances, and he told me details of his three tours to Afghanistan, his deployment to Africa and his first and last tour to Iraq. His wife almost divorced him with how often he'd been gone since 9/11, he said. Of course, he didn't ever volunteer to deploy.

About a month after being in Iraq, his unit had raided several houses and taken a few people. The intelligence section determined they should let a couple guys go. They loaded them up in a convoy and started to drive them back to the local sheikh.

Gray, who retired as a Staff Sergeant with 90 percent disability, was commanding the first vehicle in the convoy driving down the roadway when he noticed what would turn out to be a hoax Improvised Explosive Device (IED). He stopped the convoy and stepped out of the Humvee.

Kaboom! -- an IED buried right next to him exploded and threw him back into the truck. Fortunately, he wasn't injured. Immediately, he yelled at his driver to drive around the hoax IED and get out of the 'kill zone.' As soon as he got the other side, he was blown up a second time. That's the one that took off his thumb and resulted in his fake left eye. The piece of shrapnel that took off his thumb entered into his gunner's leg, but no one else was hurt. His tour of duty in Iraq lasted only one month, but the result was a permanent change of his future.

It was nice to see him again. Unfortunately, he could only see me with partial vision. But he seemed to have a good attitude and good things going for him. "Yeah, I get a nice paycheck from the Army," he said.

"But can you write?" I thought out loud, thinking he couldn't hold a pen or pencil, or grip anything. Normally that would have been totally out of line, but I felt a connection with him and ventured into what would have otherwise been socially uncouth. Before he answered, I asked, "Well, you can still type?" It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yeah, and that voice activated software the military first gave me was crap. It didn't work at all."

We spoke a bit more about other topics. I asked him if he remembered Johnny and told him that he died in Iraq late last year while I was there.

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