According to the organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (iava.org) 48,253 soldiers have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since their inception. IAVA also reports that there were 23 Army suicides in the month of June 2012 alone. While the average American cannot begin to fathom the stresses, emotions and horrors that come as a part of participating in war, the harsh reality is that many soldiers return home feeling ill-adjusted, misunderstood and left to now face life alone. Many soldiers suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), some develop substance abuse or other mental health issues, all of which are only compounded when a wounded soldier must cope with the physical pain of a combat injury.
The Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org) has a vision “To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.” WWP’s mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors. WWP’s purpose includes raising awareness, enlisting the public’s aid for the needs of wounded service members, to help injured service members assist each other, and to provide unique and direct programs to meet the needs of injured service members.
WWP takes a holistic approach to ensure that no aspect of a wounded warrior’s care and recovery is overlooked. To address mental and emotional challenges, WWP offers a Combat Stress Recovery Program including retreats, counseling and online resources. WWP seeks to meet the economic needs of wounded veterans by providing job training and placement. To address physical needs, WWP offers fitness programs, rehabilitation programs, and adaptive sports designed to help injured soldiers regain their confidence and independence. But perhaps the most important aspect of what WWP does is provide a venue for relationships and mentoring where wounded warriors can connect with others who share their same struggles, and who can relate and empathize with them in a way that most simply cannot.
The following are just a few of the thousands of soldiers that WWP’s outreach and care programs have been able to impact.
In October 2006, Marine Corps Major Justin Constantine was shot in the head by a sniper while on combat patrol in Iraq. Thanks to the swift and skilled actions of his brothers in arms, Constantine did not lose his life that day. Nevertheless, six years later, he reports still being only about 75 percent recovered. Constantine confesses, “Even though I try not to, I still feel embarrassed and guilty about my injury.” His involvement with WWP and the support of his wife Dahlia have helped him deal with the intense physical and emotional challenges he has faced along the way. Today, Constantine is a part of a wounded warrior Congressional task force and works for an FBI counterterrorism unit. Constantine holds fast to Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Never, never, never, give up.”
Harold “Butch” Freeman
While deployed in Iraq in 2004, Butch Freeman was among the victims of a suicide bombing. After the initial impact, Butch woke up surrounded by dead American soldiers lying around him. He suffered a shattered femur, a traumatic brain injury and PTSD as a result of the attack. Butch says, “That was minor compared to when I found myself lying next to a guy with both legs gone. I didn’t feel worthy,” Today, Butch suffers from memory loss, speech difficulty, and severe headaches. He shares that WWP has made a huge difference in his recovery and his quality of life. “It gives you a sense of safety. That’s what I get out of connecting with other veterans,” Butch says. “I feel anyone in that room would lay down their lives for me. I’d do the same for them. I’d like to share this feeling of safety with others as well.”
In the course of his third military deployment in Afghanistan, Corporal Anthony Villareal suffered burns over 60 percent of his body after an improvised explosive device (IED) attack that left two other Marines critically injured and a Navy doctor dead. Villareal was put in a medically-induced coma for over three-and-a-half months. He underwent over 70 surgeries, including the amputation of his right hand and left fingers, and sustained crippling nerve and muscle damage. Villareal spent two years in the hospital, and credits his faithful wife and family for helping him endure his agonizing recovery. Today, Villareal is committed to serving others who have been wounded in combat. He shares, “I want to help wounded warriors in their recovery process. And I want to give insight to civilians that these warriors are out there. Ask us and we’ll tell you our story. We’re so much more than something to stare at.”
Thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project, soldiers are being shown care, compassion and, most importantly, are being connected in relationship to other men and women whose own experiences on the battlefield qualify them to listen, counsel and encourage. After putting their lives on the line for the sake of freedom both at home and abroad, these brave men and women certainly deserve the best homecoming possible.
For more information on how you can support the efforts of the Wounded Warrior Project, visit them online at woundedwarriorproject.org.