Life and Limb: A Local Veteran's Journey
By Justin Mouser | 1/07/2015
Between Heaven and Hell
It was Friday morning at 0530, August 13, 2010, Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan. The sun was just starting to its long journey from below the horizon. I was part of a small squad, sent to inspect enemy activity across a bridge that was frequently used by locals. We had been conducting over-watch for several hours; quietly watching the dark and foreign landscape for signs of Taliban. I removed my NODs (night vision goggles), packed them away, checked the time. It was 0536. Time flies whenever your looking for Terry. As we packed up to finish out on the remainder of our patrol, we filed in behind the lead man who was sweeping for mines. This is what they call a "Level Zero Mission"; routine and sans support.
The First Step
It happened faster than a blink of an eye, but I knew exactly what it was. This region is overrun with landmines, many having been planted 40 years ago by the Soviets. I had the privilege of finding one for myself. As time seemed to slow down, I wondered what would happen next. Was I going to die? Was this the last thing I would ever see? Did I lose a limb? I'm alive now, but for how much longer? The blast took my left leg, below the knee; I sustained many other injuries, some visible, and some not. I had little to no knowledge of what happened to Soldiers when they were seriously wounded. I thought this was the end. I could never have known my journey was just starting.
I underwent emergency surgery at KAF (Kandahar Airfield), before taking a flight to Bagram Air Base, and then on to Germany. I woke up from surgeries at every imaginable stop between Afghanistan and America. I started to question if this was really happening to me, or if it was just a terrible nightmare. The reality set in when I arrived at Walter Reed Medical Center, Ward 57. Three weeks and 17 major surgeries later, I was given a tour of the Walter Reed Rehabilitation Center. There were hundreds of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the facility; all recovering from equally devastating, if not worse injuries than my own. On my way to my first rehab-session - accompanied by my girlfriend/future wife Marsha - I struggled to push my wheelchair up a ramp. That's when it hit me... I started to cry*; I wasn't sad, I was angry. Angry because I knew I would never be the same. I would no longer be able to walk or run like a normal person, I would never be who I once was. But after my self-pity party, I realized that this would not define me. I knew it would be hard work, but I could get my life back. I would have to take it, but hell, it was mine to take. I had to salvage all the dignity I had remaining. I would do it one small step at a time. I vowed to run by year's end; it was September. It was an ambitious goal, and at the time, seemingly impossible to any outsider looking in.
I transferred to the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center (San Antonio) to be closer to family (Louisiana), but also because the staff at BAMC had the resources to help me accomplish my goals. I was walking by November; I ran in January of 2011. I ran more 5ks than I can count. I ran the Army 10-miler in October. In November of 2011 - almost one year since I took my first step with a prosthetic - I ran the Rock-n-Roll half marathon in San Antonio. I had accomplished more than I could have ever dreamed. These were things I would have never done back before my injury; it's amazing how much not being able to run will motivate you to do so.
A New Beginning
I retired from the Army in December 2011 - moving back home to Lake Charles, Louisiana - to pursue a business degree from McNeese State University. I refused to let my injury handicap my ambition. I will not become a drunken war-vet, living off a retirement check.
I graduate this year with a double-major in Management and Marketing. I married the most beautiful woman in the world, Marsha in March 2013. We are expecting our first child in April of this year. We have traveled, we have made great friends, and we have lost a few as well. C'est la vie.*
A Call to Arms
If you really want to help veterans, you don't need to give them money or buy them dinner. You just need to contact your local representative and ask them, “When will Lake Charles have a Veterans' Affairs Center?” Good care is critical to healing wounds, even the ones you can't see. We lose veterans everyday because they aren't getting the care they need. We can do better than that. We have to do better than that. Regardless of your opinion of the war, veterans sacrifice life and limb to defend this nation. All I am asking is that you sacrifice two minutes to call, or email your representative and demand action. You can make a difference. Please do it. Do it now.
*This was the one-and-only time that tears have touched my face.
**I intentionally typed "such is life", but the Editor "Frenched" it up.
A Note From the Editor
For those of you who do not know,
Lake Charles has no medical treatment center for veterans. One has been promised for years now (over 12), but so far, we’ve heard nothing more than excuses. Many people, myself included, often take the availability of medical care for granted. It seems as if every other construction site is the future home of an urgent care facility (I’m not complaining; I hate the ER just as much as you do ). But for some of us, routine medical care is a bureaucratic nightmare.
Sure, any visit to the doctor can be inconvenient, but imagine if you were forced to drive several hours (often to Texas) just to be seen. If you’ll allow me to take it a step further; imagine if you did not have the option to abandon these medical road trips across the country. Many veterans are required to make it to these appointments; failure to appear risks the forfeiture of benefits.
We (veterans) are honored to live in this region; it is one of the few places that still appreciates our sacrifice. We often do not know how to react to the “thank yous” and recognition, but it means the world to us. We know that many veterans in other states do not enjoy this experience. For that, I thank you.
We knew the risks of service when we signed up, but that does not excuse the lack of quality care for our veterans. We humbly ask for your support in the campaign to bring a VA Medical Center to Lake Charles. We have heard the promises; we have heard the ever-changing dates, but we have yet to see the progress.
Please contact Congressman Charles Boustany, our district representative, and ask for his support in this matter. He can, hypothetically, be reached by emailing his “Constituent Service Representative” Theresa Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s a very nice lady. We know, we called.
We wish to remind you that Dr. Boustany has only recently taken charge of his post, and any previous shortcomings of representation are not of his doing. Below we have attached a statement that you may copy and paste (we know, not everyone likes to type).
Congressman Boustany, congrats on the election! We are really excited to see what you can do for the 7th district. One recommendation, perhaps you could expedite the Veterans’ Administration Medical Treatment Facility in Lake Charles. Well, I have to get back to work now. Thanks for the time.
-A Real Person
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