EL PASO, Texas - Pvt. 1st Class Hope Clark vows to serve this nation as a soldier, but there’s more underneath the tough-girl demeanor. Clark is a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. But above all her titles, some would say she is a hero. Today Clark, a Purple Heart recipient, battles the daily fight of resilience due to injuries sustained while in Afghanistan.
Clark, of Ionia, Mich., joined the U.S. Army in 2010; one year after her husband was sworn into the U.S. Army. She left behind a career in nursing for Army greens and tan boots.
Clark works as a heavy equipment operator Alpha Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Special Troops Battalion, where she is trained to operate engineering equipment used to cut and level earth for runways and roadbeds.
Clark recalled the rewarding experience of collaborating with engineers in international forces to conduct route clearing while in Afghanistan.
Her passion for her job helped her to embrace her military occupation. “Being a soldier has changed my life. I was so excited to go on my first mission, doing my job brings me so much satisfaction,” said Clark.
Digging holes, trenches, and clearing roads in Afghanistan placed many Soldiers in harm’s way. During a routine route-clearing mission, Clark’s unit unexpectedly came under fire. She assisted her comrades using her military tactical training.
“The route clearance mission was my first and last mission in Afghanistan,” said Hope, her blue eyes glazing over recalling the frightful event 4 months later. “I remember we drove to a river bed and had to change our route, when suddenly we received incoming RPGs [rocket propelled grenades].” The RPGs were followed with small arms fire from hostile forces in Afghanistan.
“My adrenaline was rushing as I remember grabbing someone out of the HMMWV. My battle-buddy cut his face and blood was everywhere. I ran over to help the medic with first aid,” she said. “In that moment I was so scared and I remember thinking we all would die; I am surprised I didn’t freak out.”
“We hauled out of there with all the soldiers,” and everyone received immediate medical attention, said Clark. Fortunately, no one was killed during this attack.
Clark and her convoy returned to base immediately. After wanting to get off the Forward Operating Base for so long, Clark admitted she never imagined this would be her fate.
“My husband was on a FOB hours away from me in Afghanistan, and had not heard about the attack,” said Clark, her eyebrows growing closer and closer as she described the agony of telling her husband of the attack. “I didn’t get to see him before I was medically evacuated me out of Afghanistan.”
Death, Clark admitted, is a soldier’s occupational hazard and her “GI Jane” complex doesn’t exclude her from being untouchable. “When it’s your turn to go, it’s your turn to go, but I would never want to leave my family,” said Clark. “In a sense, I take my family everywhere I go.” Tattoos of her three boys Jacob, A.J. and Gavin adorn her body.
Before leaving her FOB, Clark shared her hopes to return to Afghanistan with her comrades. She learned in transition that she would not be able to return on this tour. “I want to go back, but it isn’t up to me,” she said. “I was disappointed. Will I ever go back, who knows?” she said.
Under the supervision of medical advisors Clark began ongoing medical treatment, which still continues today. She works to rehabilitate in the Wounded Warrior Transitional Program at Fort Bliss. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and minor sprains in her neck and shoulders.
“When a soldier recognizes an injury, soldiering through the pain is the first response of tough Soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Bryan L. Boyea, chief physical therapist, William Beaumont Army Medical Center. “The majority of injures are progressive and frequently ignored, until the mission is threatened from afflictions.”
A number of factors act as building blocks to Clark’s recovering from injury, a combination of: early management, activity modification, physical therapy, and behavior health.
“Aquatics therapy provides a great building block to regain strength in lower extremities,” said Boyea. “It can be fairly challenging, yet a good transition to pain free land-based physical therapy.” Hydrostatic pressure in water provides resistance to moving forward that helps by: compensating for overstressed muscles, and reduces swelling.
Although tragedy comes for many soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, there is hope after the war. Clark is just one of many Soldiers on Fort Bliss bravely working to overcome injuries sustained during deployments.