Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Former Oregon soldier returns to Iraq as part of Operation Proper Exit

Right: Retired Oregon Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Luke Wilson jokes that audience members can play with his prosthetic leg if they want, during a "town hall meeting" with paratroopers of 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division during a visit by wounded warriors participating in Operation Proper Exit, Oct. 15. Photo by Spc. Mike MacLeod.

To help bring closure to their participation in war, The Troops First Foundation, working with the USO, took eight wounded soldiers back to Iraq in the early part of October, 2009.

Luke Wilson, who hails from Hermiston, Ore., was one of them.

According to officials who organized the program, Operation Proper Exit, their aim is to help wounded warriors complete their mission.

"Some of you were taken in on a gurney and left on a gurney and won't remember having ever been there," Wilson told them at the Joint Visitors Bureau Oct. 12.

Wilson lost his left leg below the knee in an RPG attack on his convoy on Aug. 4, 2004, while he was deployed to Baghdad with the Oregon Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry.

He and seven others visited Camp Ramadi, Iraq. The group was comprised of Marine Sgt. John Eubanks of Atlanta, Ga., Army Cpl. Craig Chavez of Temecula, Calif., Army Sgt. John Hyland of Charlotte, N.C., Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson of Spokane, Wash., Army Sgt. Eric Payton of Milford, N.J., and Army 1st Lt. Ed Salau aof Stella, N.C.

The group spent a week making stops throughout Iraq, and visited with paratroopers of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. They were introduced to soldiers at the headquarters of the U.S. military command at Camp Victory, in a palace believed to have belonged to the late Saddam Hussein, al-Faw Palace.

Retired Oregon Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Luke Wilson relaxes on an armchair, believed to have belonged to Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, at al-Faw Palace, on the outskirts of Baghdad, on Oct. 11. Wilson and seven other wounded warriors visited Iraq as part of Operation Proper Exit--a program developed to return injured troops to Iraq to visit the battlefields where they were injured.

"This trip wasn't anything like I expected," Wilson said. "When I was here before, there were IED's, attacks, people being shot at every day."

The program which brought the warriors back to Iraq is sponsored by Troops First Foundation and the USO. The aim is to return military members to the battlefield where they were injured, with the goal of bringing a sense of closure and showing them the improvements taking place in Iraq.

According to 1st Bde. 82nd Airborne Div. Command Sgt. Maj. LaMarquis Knowles, the visit allows the warriors to see first hand the impact of their service.

"You can be assured your sacrifices were worth something," he told the warriors.

I've had the privilege of spending time with Luke Wilson on a few occasions. He is one of the most laid-back, easy-going people I know. In spite of his injury, he remains upbeat and positive.

In fact, he has taken his situation and turned it into a positive one; he has been a staunch supporter of the nationally-recognized Oregon National Guard Reintegration Program, and has spoken publicly at several local town-hall meetings with civic and local leaders throughout Oregon.

We posted a blog on June 29 in which Wilson took part in a press conference where Oregon Senator Ron Wyden announced proposed legislation to provide better transition for soldiers returning from deployments.

And by his own admittance, Wilson's saving grace is his incredible sense of humor.

Sitting in a restaurant in Los Angeles in early 2008, the night before a film festival screening of the independent film, "This is War", which featured Wilson and his fellow soldiers of the 2-162 IN BN, Wilson leans over to me and says, "Watch this."

He proceeds to turn his prosthetic leg upside down so the bottom of his foot is pointing upward. He then places it on the edge of the table.

The look on the waitress' face was something I can only describe as a mixture of horror and surprise.

"See? What did I tell you?" Wilson said with a boyish grin as the entire table broke out in laughter.

"He does this all the time," said fellow 2-162 Inf. Bn. soldier, and Reintegration Team member, Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Jacques. "It's getting to the point where we can't take him anywhere."

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So proud of you brother.