News: ‘Desert Rogues’ return from combat, reunite with wounded warriors
Story by Staff Sgt. Aaron Knowles
FORT STEWART, Ga. - No one hopes to be injured in combat, and no leader wants to see their soldier taken away in any capacity, but it is a difficult feeling regardless.
When a unit suffers a casualty, it is not just the chain of command that suffers. It is the soldiers, the leaders, the families, and the friends who suffer.
It is also the moral of the unit that suffers, as well.
There are few things that can hurt the moral of a unit as much as losing a fellow soldier from the left and right of a formation, but there is definitely one thing that can raise it.
Seeing them return.
When 1st Battalion, 64th Armor, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division returned home, Nov. 24, the returning soldiers did not expect to be greeted by several of their Wounded Warriors.
When the doors opened and the soldiers began to exit the aircraft, there were shouts of excitement as usual, but this time it was not only for the excitement of returning from the theater of combat, but many of the shouts were for the four Wounded Warriors that were standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the plane.
Sgt. Kristian Cedeno, Spc. Kevin Jaye, 1st Lt. James McGrath, and Sgt. Jeremiah Frost were all injured by enemy actions and medically evacuated from Afghanistan.
The amazing thing about these soldiers is that they were all standing.
Several of these soldiers suffered injuries that left them as amputees.
Spc. Kevin Jaye, an infantryman from 1-64th AR and a native Smithsburg, Md., had his right leg amputated below the knee and his left leg is currently in a “cage” to heal the many fractures that it has suffered, but he is standing. Spc. Jaye was injured in a dismounted improvised explosive device blast.
“Last week, it was crazy,” Spc. Jaye said. “The first time I started walking, I was just working on trying to stand up and get used to it. I said ‘let’s try this.’ I took one step and then I was gone. I kept going.”
Despite his injuries and the pain of getting used to his prosthetics, Spc. Jaye smiled non-stop as he greeted, hugged, and shook the hands of every soldier from 1-64th who exited the plane.
“The guy that makes my leg, he never thought I would be walking with the cage," Spc. Jaye said. “We had to alter my uniform for me to get into it and I got some new shoes but no one ever thought I would be walking.”
Sgt. Cedeno, an Infantryman with 1-64th and a native of Queens, N.Y., who also suffered a below the right knee amputation, as well as other extensive tissue damage, spoke about his progress and personal goals.
“There was no way in hell I was going to wheel into my own house,” Sgt. Cedeno said.
“I cut my grass for the first time, two days ago,” Sgt. Cedeno said. “It took me two hours, but I was going to be damned if my wife was going to send someone to do it or she was going to do it. I felt like a rock star.”
First Lt. James McGrath, the platoon leader for 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1-64th AR, who suffered shrapnel wounds throughout his left side and a compound fracture to his left arm, was the platoon leader for two of the other Wounded Warriors. He was also in high spirits at the welcome home ceremony.
“These were some of my guys,” 1st Lt. McGrath said. “I had to deal with losing these guys and then I got blown up too. I got blown up three weeks after Cedeno. It was hard having someone else take over my platoon.”
“Seeing them is going to be good,” 1st Lt. McGrath said, “We are just glad that they are not in harm’s way. The fact of the matter is that there are still a lot of people over there, in that same territory. They are still fighting that same fight.”
Sgt. James Frost, an Armor Crewman with 1-64th, had also suffered a left leg amputation below his knee but was proudly standing with his fellow “Desert Rogues” as 1-64th AR unloaded the aircraft.
Once 1-64th finished unloading the planes, the unit loaded onto buses and the soldiers were transported to Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field.
As the “Desert Rogues” marched in a formation towards the family-filled bleachers, they were joined by the Wounded Warriors. Col. John Hort, the deputy commanding general rear of Fort Stewart, spoke at the ceremony on Cottrell field saying, “Job well done. This is truly special to have some of our wounded warriors out there also. “
The four wounded warriors were back with their fellow soldiers, with their unit, and with their family. It was an important step in their healing, as well as the units, to have rejoined with the 1-64th.
“I am home today,” Sgt. Cedeno said. “Today I come home. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t rest. I broke down on the daily. Knowing that my brothers are out there, I felt like I cheated them out. I am over here eating, and seeing my family, and they are still over there. So today, I sleep. I didn’t sleep last night. They're the reason I am coming home today.”