KABUL, Afghanistan, Mar. 15, 2014— March madness may be underway in the U.S., but in Afghanistan, the sports of basketball and golf helped create a different kind of event for five Soldiers who had been previously wounded in action. Operation Proper Exit, now on its fourth tour to to Afghanistan, provides wounded veterans a chance to return to tell their stories.
Operation Proper Exit is one of the four initiatives of Troops First. Co-founder Rick Kell teamed up with former pro golfer and broadcaster David Feherty to form the Troops First Foundation after his visits with wounded troops at Walter Reed, where he heard from many of the troops that they wanted to return.
“The criteria for Proper Exit is having been through recovery, both physical and hopefully some mental recovery, and embraced what's next in your life,” said Kell. “School, fitness, whatever that is. And if you have embraced what’s coming next and have made a commitment to it, then we think it is OK to bring you back on Proper Exit.”
Five soldiers came to the podium at Camp Phoenix to tell their story. Captain Matt Anderson, who was wounded by a landmine blast to the right foot and lower leg in Arghandab River Valley, Kandahar, led with his command voice on the Army family and how important is to stay in contact with fellow service members, even after they depart the military.
“There are a lot of doors that close after injury,” said Anderson. “And these guys will prove, in their own statements that, you can literally do anything afterwards.”
In Feb. 2011, Anderson, who tells you he is very competitive, decided to compete in the indoor regatta, rowing for the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center. Having never rowed before, he placed fourth in the Open Men Legs-Trunk-Arms; Physically Disabled at the C.R.A.SH. – B Sprints World Indoor Championships with a time of 3:26.1.
Sgt. Daniel Harrison served with Anderson when he was a platoon leader. Even though wounded by an IED blast, he now pursues an electrical engineering degree, hunts and works on motorcycles.
“These guys are going to be my friends for the rest of my life,” said Harrison, reiterating the words of Anderson. “I don't know any civilian friends that I would turn to like these guys.”
All five of the soldiers are athletic, competing in some type of sport. One is now a personal trainer. Retired Sgt. Noah Galloway was hit by an IED in Yusufiya, Iraq and lost his left arm and leg. He struggled at first, he said, but was motivated by his father who had lost a hand working at a plant when a machine malfunctioned. To him, if his father could do so much with one arm, then he would do twice as much missing two limbs. Now Galloway is sought out as a personal trainer specializing in mud run and endurance obstacle races.
Obstacle races are even a challenge to the prosthesis.
“I have seen prosthetic arms and legs improve dramatically over the last few years,” said Galloway, who abuses his leg prosthesis, breaking several over the past few competitions. He explains that they are not usually made for those type of events. “Prosthetic legs have been slowly getting better regardless, but now because of Iraq and Afghanistan there have been more arm amputations and now America is leading the way on prosthetic arms,” continued Galloway.
Galloway has been impressed by a leg prosthetic he received from Ottobock, a German manufacturer, for the durable joint it has. He says in competition for obstacle courses, the joint and leg must sustain a lot of wear through water and mud on the challenging events. A good prosthesis allows a degree of readiness for each race, which he plans to do seven this year.
The stories of Capt. Matt Anderson, Sgt. Noah Galloway, Sgt. Daniel Harrison, Sgt. Ryan McIntosh, and Spc. Andrew Miller had a common theme: anything is possible; that together in the Army family, they can always win.