Getting on my motorcycle in Portland, I began to think about my meeting in Tacoma the following day.I would be meeting Brian and Sharon for lunch.
The reason for our meeting began in 2006. That was Brian’s first deployment as a combat medic in Iraq. During this tour he was involved in 3 separate IED (improvised explosive device) incidents. IED, three letters that I am sure we are all familiar with thanks to our favorite news channel. But Brian’s understanding came as a result of the shocks his brain suffered as a result of the explosions. Being a medic, Brian knew how to answer the medical examination questions given to evaluate his ability to return to combat. Brian said, “ I use to give these test, so I knew the answers.” Brian was determined to continue his service.
I arrived in Tacoma and rode over to the restaurant that Sharon had suggested meeting at. I pulled into the parking lot and heard a voice call out, “Hey Richard you can park over here.” It was Brian. It seems that he and Sharon arrived at about the same time that I did. So I parked the bike and went through the usual process of turning off the engine, taking off my helmet and grabbing the tank bag to take along with me.Brian smiled and said hello and I immediately saw the eyes of a warrior. Someone who had not seen war but had “been at war.”
We talked as we walked over to the restaurant, went inside and joined Sharon and their son Sean at the table. After sitting for just a few minutes, I felt comfortable and knew these were special people. Brian and Sharon had an obvious “connection.” They both were more than a loving relationship; they were a “Team.” And it became evident as our discussions went on that this “Team” had clear priorities and was focused on making each day a positive step forward.
After ordering our lunch, I asked Brian about the injuries he sustained during his second deployment, this time to Afghanistan. Brian paused and said, “I was riding in an armored Stryker vehicle.” I asked when that was and Sharon added, “March 22nd, 2010.” Brian told me it was a mission that he was not supposed to be on. It seems that another SGT. scheduled to go home in 4 days, stayed behind, and told Brian that he would be going on the mission instead.The mission that day and the chance decision that Brian would be seated in the commanders hatch, rather than the drivers seat, would change the course of Brian’s life with one sudden explosion.
One IED. One Sudden explosion.
At first Brian didn’t know what happened. Brian was strapped in and remembers trying to get out of the vehicle. This effort, while not successful, did reveal to Brian that he could not move his legs.
Brian said to me, “I was the patient and the medic at the same time.” I was going through my head, checking my ability to move and had no movement in my legs.” At this point the driver of the vehicle was cutting the straps that held Brian in, so he could be removed and given medical attention.The injuries were overwhelming. Brian had injured both legs, had severely fractured his pelvis, snapped his tailbone in half and had sustained internal injuries.
Brian barley hung on to consciousness. Next he was on a helicopter. Then the helicopter landed and Brian told me, “ I was being carried to the medical tent, a tent that I had carried so many other wounded to in the past. “ Brian then added, “the tent was open at the entrance, dark inside and it was open at the other end exposing the daylight. “ Brian then described it to me as, “the light at the end of the tunnel.” He went on to say that he must have passed out at that point.” Sharon then said to me that Brian “bled out, he had lost 8 liters of blood.”
Brian’s next memory was 7 days later in Walter Reed Medical Center with his father and brother at his bedside.
Brian’s injuries resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee, severe damage to his right foot that may still result in its amputation , a fused pelvis, the implantation of two metal rods in the left hip, one in the right hip and 2 metal rods down the spine.
I said earlier that these were two special people. Two people connected. Sharon is a woman in love, a woman that met Brian after everything happened that I have just described. Sharon’s connection to Brian can easily be seen. It’s in the way she looks at him, in the way she champion’s his medical care and in her sensitivity to his emotional challenges.
So I have told you about the “American Warrior.” I have described the combat medic and the horrific injuries he sustained. I have related the bravery of a soldier. But I have not told you about the Brian that carries the war like a movie in his head. The Brian that is heart broken over the suffering of others, not his own.
At one point towards the end of our time together Brian closed his eyes and began describing in detail driving through the villages in Afghanistan. He spoke in detail about the buildings and their worn colors. He described the smells as he drove past asphalt pits. And Brian described the “Child.”
Brian, with eyes closed , told me about the movie that he was watching.“I was on patrol in the marketplace of a small village when there was an explosion. People are in a panic…running …confusion and fear. I ran to the scene and a mother was lying on the ground, dead from her wounds. Lying on the ground next to her was a baby. I went to the baby and examined her. She had cuts and bruises but nothing that was life threating. I picked her up and held her in my arms. “I was so relieved that I could comfort her.” I looked around and saw an old man from the village. I walked over with this innocent child and handed her to the man. I was sure that the child was now safe again. Now removed from the horrors of war. The old man took her from me and then did the unthinkable. He held up the child by one leg. She was now upside down and her terror returned. The market place was filled with the sound of her crying. The old man then motioned a woman over and handed the child over. The woman and child then disappeared into the crowed. In an instant I realized the ugliness of the situation’s truth. This child had survived only to become a burden for the village. She had survived death only to now endure a life of suffering. This innocent child’s crying will be a continual calling out for love.”
Listening to Brian, I didn’t notice that Sharon had moved over next to him and she was gently rubbing his back. I could tell that she had been here before. And was there for Brian.
I was overwhelmed by the realization that Brian’s terrible injuries and ongoing struggles both medically and emotionally, for him were nothing compared to the destruction of innocence. I came to meet Brian and Sharon to hear “their story.” Instead I heard a story of selflessness. I heard a story that demonstrated how each of us must grow past our own injuries. These “injuries” go unseen but they are real. They are the “invisible injuries” that make us focus on ourselves and lose sight of the needs of those around us.
Brian can close his eyes and “see.” He can “see” others pain and rise above his own. I can only hope that each mile that I ride, will give me the chance to tell Brian’s story. I can only hope that Brian’s strength and Sharon’s unselfish love will help all of us to see with eyes wide open.
Our lunch ended when a child at a nearby table began to cry. Brian said, I’m sorry but I need to go.”