Wounded warriors share experiences with deploying sailors[MIGRATE]

By Lance Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca | January 28, 2013

Photos
Deploying sailors actively listen as wound warrior Sgt. Maj. Patrick Wilkinson, formerly  2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Battalion Sergeant Major, shares his story during a pre-deployment at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24.

Deploying sailors actively listen as wound warrior Sgt. Maj. Patrick Wilkinson, formerly 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Battalion Sergeant Major, shares his story during a pre-deployment at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca)

Lt. Cmdr. Helen Chandler, a registered nurse for the Intensive Care Unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan, holds back tears as she listens to a wounded warrior's heartbreaking story  during a pre-deployment at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24.

Lt. Cmdr. Helen Chandler, a registered nurse for the Intensive Care Unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan, holds back tears as she listens to a wounded warrior's heartbreaking story during a pre-deployment at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca)

Ret. Sgt. Maj. Patrick Wilkinson, former 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Battalion Sergeant Major, reflects on experiences during the sailors’ pre-deployment at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24.

Ret. Sgt. Maj. Patrick Wilkinson, former 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Battalion Sergeant Major, reflects on experiences during the sailors’ pre-deployment at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca)

Sgt. Jordan Williams, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, shares his deployment experiences during a pre-deployment brief at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24.

Sgt. Jordan Williams, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, shares his deployment experiences during a pre-deployment brief at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca)

Cpl. Toran Gaal, formerly with 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, shares his deployment experiences with medical personnel during a pre-deployment brief at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24.

Cpl. Toran Gaal, formerly with 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment, shares his deployment experiences with medical personnel during a pre-deployment brief at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Trevon S. Peracca)

The sailors didn't know it, but in minutes, many of them would be crying.

During their last few days in the states, more than 100 Navy corpsmen, nurses and surgeons sat at the Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute here Jan. 24 and prepared for a journey to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.

Five empty chairs, positioned below a raised platform, faced the class at the audience's level.

As the sailors waited to begin a panel discussion with wounded warriors, they reviewed techniques on caring for combat troops and chatted casually about the excitement of the fight.

When Cpl. Toran Gaal and four others arrived at the institute, the chatting went silent and things got real.

Gaal, in civilian garb, wheeled before the audience and hoisted himself into one of the chairs. Retired Iraq veteran Sgt. Maj. Patrick Wilkinson, also wearing plain clothes, revealed a prosthetic right leg and a very scarred left leg. Sgt. Jordan Williams and Cpls. Michael Casey and Anthony Arriaga, less visibly scarred, represented Wounded Warrior Battalion West here and wore camouflaged utility uniforms.

The institute's training and academics officer Navy Lt. Tuesday Adams invited the wounded warriors to recount stories of challenge, loss and survival, and the panelists obliged by giving details of their injuries, which were inflicted by roadside bombs, ambushes, detonated suicide vests and other combat-related incidents.

Gaal, formerly with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, said he knew there was always a possibility of getting injured in Afghanistan, but he never thought it would happen to him.

He told the crowd, "I would get blown up every day for a year to know that my squad is alive and out there currently leading Marines in combat."

An improvised explosive device left Gaal comatose for more than a month. His first thought after waking was, "Who is leading my squad? Are they okay?"

Gaal said he refused to accept his injuries.

Audience members wiped away tears as a contagious weeping made its way around in the room.

Arriaga, who recalled slipping in and out of consciousness after being ambushed in Afghanistan, said he remembered how a nurse made him feel better by rubbing his ears while he was transported to a forward operating base.

With compassion and understanding being the lessons of the day, the sailors, who came from various naval medical units throughout the world, were days from deploying to the NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar -- the busiest military trauma hospital in the world.

"I am ready to get out there and do my job," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Martin. "It's time to get out there, get the experience in and start learning."