News: Bittersweet reunion in the desert
Story by Sgt. Tracy R. Myers
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Deployed Soldiers can experience a wide range of feelings, physically and emotionally. A reunion in Kuwait was bittersweet for two high-school wrestling buddies from the small town of State College, Pa.
U.S. Army Sgt. Adam Hartswick, a Wounded Warrior at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and Spc. Jason Lingo, U.S. Army Reserve Soldier assigned to the 374th Military Police Company out of Chambersburg, Pa., have been good friends since high school.
“We’ve always been really close,” said Hartswick. “We first met on our way to wrestling practice in ninth grade. We had to walk from our high school to the elementary school, which was almost a three- mile walk.”
It turned out they had more in common than their love of wrestling; both boys were “military brats.”
“I think we became friends so quickly because both of our dads were first sergeants who were in [the military] for such a long time,” said Hartswick. “Before that walk to wrestling practice, we never knew each other, but we just started talking like friends.”
They both decided to join the Army after graduating high school in 2009.
Lingo chose to join the Army Reserves and attend college, he said. It was a more natural decision for Hartswick to enlist for active-duty service.
“I always knew I was going to join the Army,” said Hartswick. “My father and both of my grandpa’s were veterans. It’s in my blood and something I have always wanted to do.”
While Lingo was attending Pennsylvania State University, Hartswick shipped off to Afghanistan.
Hartswick was deployed to Afghanistan when his life was altered by a devastating attack on his unit May 14, 2013.
“I was the company senior medic responding to an attack on our second platoon,” Hartswick said, recalling that day. “When I got to the scene, the platoon medic, one of my Soldiers, was dead along with two other Soldiers.”
“I was doing human-remains recovery and treating the walking-wounded when the [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] team showed up,” he continued. “The EOD team leader went to interrogate a device and it blew up, killing him, about ten meters in front of me.”
Hartswick suffered minor injuries from that explosion and was able to continue his medic duties.
“I shook that off and went to retrieve him when I was blown up,” he said. “I was still conscious, so I treated myself. The platoon leader came to me and tightened my tourniquets.”
He survived the deadly blasts of three explosions, but lost both of his legs above the knee and a finger from his right hand.
“I was back in the States within six days,” said Hartswick.
The word spread quickly once he arrived to the hospital in his hometown. Lingo said a mutual friend of theirs called to deliver the news.
“I didn’t even know what to say when I got the call,” said Lingo. “It was just pure silence on the phone for a long while. I was angry and sad.”
Lingo returned home from college and had to wait almost a month to visit his friend in the hospital.
“They were only allowing my family to visit me for a while,” said Hartswick.
Seeing Hartswick made coping with the news much more bearable for Lingo, he said.
“When I saw how he was handling everything, it made it so much easier for me to deal with,” said Lingo. “I was able to see that it didn’t slow him down at all, he was the exact same person that I saw before he left.”
Now, after recovering from his physical injuries, Hartswick was ready for some emotional healing, and chose to participate in the Troops First Foundation’s Operation Proper Exit.
Operation Proper Exit is a program providing Wounded Warrior’s capable of returning to theater the opportunity to tour forward operating bases in Afghanistan. The recovering Soldiers benefit from seeing the progress they helped achieve, the camaraderie among deployed troops and the closure they need by leaving the battlefield on their own accord.
“The best thing about this trip was experiencing the companionship and brotherhood again,” said Hartswick. “There is such a deep bond forged in fire that you can’t find it anywhere else.”
The high school wrestling buddies reunited during Lingo’s deployment to Kuwait. Hartswick traveled through here on his way to and from Afghanistan July 8 and 13.
“I found out he was coming here only a few days prior [to his arrival],” said Lingo. “It was a pleasant surprise.”
“It was awesome to see him here. I knew he would need the morale boost” Hartswick said. “Being in Kuwait isn’t like being in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even though you are serving a purpose here, it’s not the Super Bowl for us. Pro football player’s are always training to play in the Super Bowl, we train for combat; that’s our Super Bowl.”
Wrestling brought them together, now they are brothers in arms; they share more than just memories, they share principles and standards.
“Wrestling teaches you so many values that translate over to an Army career, like having the mental grit to fight through the pain and onward toward your objective,” said Hartswick. “Hardship brings you closer.”
While unconventional, they were able to visit each other on an operational Army base in the Middle East, enjoying laughter and memories over a hot meal.
“One time we were in the halls between classes and he threw a bottle at me; it hit me right between the eyes,” Hartswick said while laughing. “I yelled, ‘I’m going to … kill you!’ We started wrestling in the hallway when a teacher came and took us by the ears to the principal’s office.”
Hartswick returned to Walter Reed after leaving Kuwait. He is unsure whether he will remain on active duty, but plans to use his experience to train Soldiers critical life saving skills.
“I’m waiting to get my narrative summary from [Veteran Affairs] that will determine if I am fit for service or not,” he said. “Either way, my goal is to pass on the lessons I’ve learned to the next generation of warriors, especially medics and Soldiers on the front line.”