Friday, October 16, 2009

Examining the soul of a warrior...

Dressed in fatigues or full combat gear, armed with anything from a sidearm to a sniper rifle and participating in activities ranging from daily patrols to black ops, members of US Armed Services can present a tough and even scary image to civilians. That image makes it hard for those not serving to remember those who do (nearly always) have a softer, human side to them.

Working in behavioral health, I've become much more aware of the psychological issues that face soldiers who return home damaged in ways surgeons cannot fix. So I was really pleased to find the following story on about Operation Proper Exit. The story focuses on Ret. 1st Lt. Edwin Salau, who lost part of his left leg in a rocket propelled grenade attack in 2004. He returned to Iraq on Oct. 13 as part of Operation Proper Exit and met with some of the soldiers stationed at Forward Operating Base Falcon. Founded by Laurel, Md.-based Troops First, the program is designed to bring wounded service members back to Iraq in hopes of gaining some psychological closure. Salau embodies the program's hopes best: "The North Carolina National Guard is like a big family, and I hated that I was not able to return to Iraq with my brothers this time. I also hated that I left them in Iraq in 2004. So, I felt a very selfish need to show them that I could walk off the battlefield on my terms. This time when I left them, the enemy did not have a vote."

This past Tuesday, Oct. 13, the USS New York set sail for its namesake city from its Northrop Grumman shipyard in Louisiana. Although the ship was already on the drawing board before the Sept. 11 attacks that sparked the war which changed Ret. 1st Lt. Salau's life, the US Defense Department decided to honor the city and its citizens with the ship's name in September 2002. In addition, the DoD decreed 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center should compose the bow of the USS New York. The ship, which cost $1 billion, is 684 feet long and can carry up to 800 Marines. Its flight deck can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey.

The helicopters and Ospreys on the deck of the USS New York are leaps and bounds ahead of the aircraft featured in today's story from the Daily Mail. Joy Lofthouse, 86, and Yvonne MacDonald, 88, the only two sisters to fly Spitfires in World War II, reunited this past Tuesday at a memorial air show. Part of the Air Transport Auxiliary, the two women were an intregal part of the Battle of Britain - flying 18 different types of aircraft to the front lines. Often the Attagirls, as that unit became known, had only a half hour to read a manual before flying off in an unfamiliar plane. Lofthouse and MacDonald joined the ATA in 1943 after reading an advertisement in a magazine; they were two of only 164 women allowed in the unit.

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