News: Wounded warriors visit Regional Command (South) with Operation Proper Exit
Story by Sgt. Antony Lee
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – When Sgt. Ryan McIntosh stepped on a land mine in 2010, early into his first deployment in southern Afghanistan, he was taken to a hospital at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to be treated for his wounds.
At NATO Multinational Medical Unit hospital, McIntosh, who had his right leg amputated below the knee, fought for the one thing he had left with him: his wedding ring.
More than three years later, McIntosh, who now runs track and field for the U.S. Army, returned to the same hospital and told his story to a crowd of service members – nurses and doctors among them. Later, he laid upon the hospital floor where he once fought a nurse for his wedding ring and took a photo of the ceiling with his phone.
Although it is now run by a new rotation of medical professionals, McIntosh wanted to make sure he visited the hospital during his trip to Regional Command (South) as a part of Operation Proper Exit with four other wounded warriors.
Operation Proper Exit is a program that enables wounded warriors to return to the theater of operations and exit on their own terms. The visit on March 13-14 to southern Afghanistan was a part of the fifth Operation Proper Exit event in Afghanistan.
Four of the returning warriors – McIntosh, retired Sgt. Daniel Harrison, retired Spc. Andrew Miller, and their platoon leader at the time, Capt. Matt Anderson, were serving with 4th Infantry Division at Combat Outpost Ware in Kandahar Province when they were injured. A fifth wounded warrior, retired Sgt. Noah Galloway, was deployed with 101st Airborne Division when he was injured in Iraq in 2005. All made the trip to Afghanistan and talked to service members throughout the visit, encouraging them through their personal stories.
More than a hundred service members formed a corridor as the five wounded warriors first walked off the plane at KAF and clapped when the wounded warriors walked past them, highlighting the better circumstances the warriors are in now.
“I got hurt and… I wasn’t going to let my injury define me, I was going to… define myself – not because I got injured but because of what I did after that,” McIntosh said, as he addressed Soldiers at Kandahar Airfield’s Liberty House.
The service members have all risen above their injuries: McIntosh is now running track and field, Anderson is continuing to serve in the Army, Galloway is now a personal trainer at a gym, and Harrison and Miller are going to school.
“I still consider myself a soldier,” said Galloway, who, although he is missing an arm and a leg, regularly competes in endurance events.
Command Sergeant Major David M. Clark, RC(S) and 4th Infantry Division command sergeant major, accompanied the wounded warriors on March 13 to Forward Operating Base Pasab, where hundreds of service members and civilians were waiting to give them a hero’s welcome. The wounded warriors encouraged the deployed service members to look out for each other – even after their deployments – to continue the rare bond formed while serving together in a combat zone.
“It was definitely a privilege and an honor to come back,” Anderson said. “If it did any good for us to talk to some of the guys here, to talk about what we’ve gone through, how we pushed forward and also how we support each other after injury and just in general – if that helps at all, then we’ve done something proactive, which is good.”