Theodore's World: So Proud of the Marines Team for Valour IT

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November 02, 2009

So Proud of the Marines Team for Valour IT

By Jules Crittenden

In November 2004, while Second Falluja was raging, I went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet some local boys who were recovering from wounds suffered earlier that year in Iraq. Army and Marines. They were inspiring. They did not inspire pity, rather a sense of awe.

WASHINGTON D.C. - It could be an upscale gym anywhere, full of purposeful activity. The good-natured but harsh ribbing among the men working out is relentless.

“Hey, how long has that guy been here?” says one kid, who is practicing with his new titanium alloy leg. He is talking about a man who is working his stump on a leg-press machine.

“About five months,” another man tells him.

“He’s been here three months longer than me, and he can’t walk yet? I can walk already!” the first amputee gloats.

“Hey! He’s above-the-knee! You’re below-the-knee!”

A cellphone rings, and someone says, “I think that’s yours,” to a man who is working his stomach muscles.

“Yeah, let it ring. I don’t feel like getting up right now,” says the man, who is missing both legs.

This is Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the human cost of America’s war in Iraq is seen in naked stumps and scars. The 46 soldiers hospitalized here are among the more than 8,000 war wounded.

What does it mean to be a Marine when you are one of the maimed at Walter Reed on Veterans Day?

“Everything,” Cpl. Peter Bagarella, 21, of Falmouth said simply.

Theirs is the story of service and sacrifice behind the statistics.

“This place is awesome. They gave me my eyes back,” said Bagarella. A remotely detonated bomb blinded him and vaporized his left leg in a palm grove in Haditha on Aug. 12. As the Iraqi ambushers opened up with machine guns and the Marines returned fire, Bagarella screamed, “Oh God! Oh God!” and used his thumbs to count his fingers. He asked the medics, “What’s gone? What’s gone on my body?”

Army PFC Paul Skarinka’s shattered left leg is caged in a cumbersome brace, with metal pins screwed through the flesh into his calf bone.

“I’m one of those people who likes to be in the middle of things,” said Skarinka, 24, of Whitman. “I knew I could end up being deployed. I had no problem with that.”

He has fond memories of Baghdad - visits with local elders, giving kids candy and being asked to stay for dinner at wedding parties.

Then in late August, they moved into Sadr City against rogue cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

“After evening prayers is when they would come out,” Skarinka said. In the early morning hours of Sept. 13, the night’s business was mostly done when an RPG came screaming up the alley.

“It looked like an oversized bottle rocket flying at us,” he said. It hit as he dove for cover. “There was debris around me. My ears were ringing. I thought, `This is OK.’ It was kind of normal. It was when I tried to get up that I realized something was wrong.” He couldn’t move his left leg or arm. He felt the blood pouring out of his side.

“I was thinking, `I’ve got to get out of here. I’m still in the kill zone. I’m not dying in this crappy alley in Sadr City.”

Someone dragged him out by his flak vest and threw him on the back of a Humvee. As a former medic, he knew the dryness in his mouth was a sign of massive blood loss. He wondered whether he was going to make it.

Skarinka probably always will walk with a limp and never have full use of his left hand.

“I don’t regret it one bit, what happened to me in Sadr City,” he said. “I signed up for this. I knew the risk. Luck wasn’t on my side.”

For Cpl. Matthew Boisvert, 21, of Tyngsboro, his missing right leg and damaged right arm are obstacles he must conquer to convince a Marine Corps Medical Board to let him go back for a third time.

“I loved it,” Boisvert said. “We enjoyed it.”

He described the transcendental experience of battle, of becoming almost mentally detached from one’s body, watching oneself and one’s friends do unimaginable things. “There is nothing in civilian life like the camaraderie you experience over there. I played sports all my life. You get an adrenaline rush playing sports, but it’s nothing like the rush you get in combat.”

His platoon fought in the initial invasion of March 2003, and went back into the bitter streetfighting of Fallujah a year later.

“It didn’t have that warm and fuzzy feeling the second time,” Boisvert said. But the war-hardened Marines went into battle with the spirit of athletes, a practiced team eager to perform again. They ribbed each other mercilessly when a flesh wound forced one or another temporarily out of the fight. The loss of friends killed in action solidified their already intense bond. Then a bomb placed in an orange traffic cone ripped Boisvert’s body apart on Aug. 17. He admits a sense of guilt that he is here, with his friends once again fiercely engaged in Fallujah.

There is another kind of camaraderie here at Walter Reed, he said.

“It helps to have people with the same injuries around,” Boisvert said.”You’ll be all pissed off because you lost your leg. Then, you see a guy who’s lost two legs. That guy’s worse off than me. I have no right to be pissed off.”

I heard some time ago that Skarinka was back home in Whitman after multiple surgeries, a father, an on-call firefighter working on becoming an EMT again, and that Boisvert was attending UMass Lowell. No word on Bagarella. All of them, as Boisvert indicated in subsequent news reports, no doubt experiencing the rollercoaster ride of adjustment to civilian life, difficult enough coming out of combat, exponentially more so with the physical and psychological challenges of severe injury.

Every cent raised for Project Valour-IT goes directly to the purchase and shipment of laptops and other technology for severely wounded service members. As of October 2009, Valour-IT has distributed over 4100 laptops to severely wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines across the country, and is now expanding its mission to include other technology that supports physical and psychological recovery.

Just to make sure folks understand what Valor IT does, it’s not just laptops as nice gifts to wounded warriors.

It’s laptops with the necessary additions in software and hardware, such as pointers and such, for warriors that have lost those parts of their bodies necessary to use regular laptops or computers or phones or do letter writing.

Lost or damaged hands, lost eyesight, lost jaws/tongues/vocal cords, paralysis, etc. That’s the warriors getting laptops from Valor IT. Men and women who wouldn’t be able to communicate with the outside world, either at all, or with any privacy as they talked with friends and family. That’s who Valor IT supports and assists.

Posted by Wild Thing at November 2, 2009 06:45 AM

Comments, has a poster (Jew Hatered at UC Irvine) I would like to use in my newsletter. How do I get permission to use it?
Thank you and have a nice day

Posted by: Carrie at November 5, 2009 07:53 PM

Hi Carrie, sure please feel free to us it.

Posted by: Wild Thing at November 6, 2009 04:45 AM