This is What Closure Feels Like

(Drinking tea from a local villager on my second deployment)

This is the fifth in a series about my trip to Afghanistan with Operation Proper Exit (Feherty’s Troops First Foundation). Click these links to read #1 #2 #3  #4and #5

I kept asking myself, “why are you going on this trip and what do you expect to get out of it?” as our C-17 rumbled from Kuwait to Afghanistan. The resounding answer I gave myself was that I desired to make peace with my past and move on before the Afghanistan chapter became my entire life story. I was unsure of how or when it would come to me, but I knew at some point the closure I so desperately sought would be found.

At first I wondered why our schedule was packed with so many activities. Our time was accounted for from the moment we woke up until we went to bed almost 18 hours later. However, I quickly understood the reasoning behind our busy days. Besides boosting the morale of the troops on the ground, the trip was designed to offer a multitude of events to help each man find their desired outcome. I realized that closure is not one size fits all, each man would need something different to elicit this emotion.

One participant was able to connect with a nurse that helped operate on him five years ago.

The Meaning of Sacrifice

(Members of Operation Proper Exit standing before the Special Operations Memorial)

This is the fifth in a series about my trip to Afghanistan with Operation Proper Exit (Feherty’s Troops First Foundation). Click these links to read #1 #2 #3 and #4

The sun crested over the nearby mountain range while I read the names on the Special Operations Memorial at Bagram Airfield. A member of my company, SFC Wyatt Goldsmith (KIA 15JUL11), had been added to the rolls just a few weeks prior. As I read the last few names, I wondered if my name would appear on the memorial by the end of my deployment (I had 5 months left). About a month later, I almost joined these men after being shot in the stomach.

Nearly six years to the day later, I was back in front of the Special Operations Memorial with Operation Proper Exit. The location had changed and the names had almost doubled. Just like I had done six years prior, I meticulously read each name and was reminded of how many of these men I personally knew. While I made my way down the list I thought back to a speech a LTC gave to my group after we found out we had passed Special Forces Selection and Assessment.

“Gentlemen, congratulations on being selected to continue training, but the true test lies ahead for those of you that make it through the Special Forces Qualification Course.

Retracing My Steps

(Six years ago, I occupied Bed # 8 in Bagram Hospital)

This is the fourth in a series about my trip to Afghanistan with Operation Proper Exit (Feherty’s Troops First Foundation). Click these links to read #1 #2 and #3

For the next three days, our schedules were packed from the moment we woke up until we went to bed. Our first stop was the helicopter medical evacuation team, better known as DUSTOFF (Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces). If it were not for a fearless and relentless DUSTOFF crew in NW Afghanistan six years ago, I would not be here right now. These crews fly anywhere and anytime. I have never had the opportunity to thank those brave soldiers who risked their lives to save me, so I was happy to be able to thank this crew for their selfless service. While it was not the same crew, it felt great to finally thank members of DUSTOFF. Next up was my most anticipated moment of the trip, a visit to Bagram hospital.

After I was wounded, I was placed in a medically induced coma at the field hospital in NW Afghanistan. I traveled from the field hospital to Heart Airfield, to Bagram Airfield and then Landstuhl, Germany, where I finally woke up. It is un-settling to have a four-day period of my life that I have no recollection of. The trip to the hospital would begin to fill in the gaps.

This is What Resilience Looks Like.

(This is the cabin of our C-130 on our trip from Kuwait to Afghanistan.  The members of Operation Proper Exit are spread throughout the cabin.)

This is the third in a series about my trip to Afghanistan with Operation Proper Exit (Feherty’s Troops First Foundation).  Click these links to read #1and #2

With a flight time of over five hours from Kuwait to Afghanistan and a C-130 reserved just for the members of Operation Proper Exit (OPE), each of us spread out throughout the cabin as soon as the plane took off. On my flights to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, I knew everyone would not be making the return trip home after the deployment. During the flights, I would inquisitively stare at the men and wonder who would make the ultimate sacrifice. Six years later with OPE, I scanned the faces in the cabin mid-flight and the sense of dread I used to feel was replaced with inspiration.

I saw five other men who had suffered devastating injuries and underwent an excruciating physical, mental and emotional healing process. I noticed the prosthetic arm and legs along with a set of crutches propped up against the cabin walls. After all these men had been through, they still possessed the courage to go back to the land that took so much from them. While my mind processed these images and emotions I thought to myself, “this is what resilience looks like”.