3/3 RVN Ass’n  Vol  1  Issue 8    01/01/2007
Page 2-3
A place for wounded warriors

08:35 AM CDT on Sunday, May 28, 2006
By GRETEL C. KOVACH / The Dallas Morning News


Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell was WIA during a mortar attack in 2004, and has the scars to prove it.

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Lt. Col. Timothy Maxwell prided himself on being a hard-core Marine, a square-jawed, straight-talking devil dog who demanded the utmost of his grunts. He was a tough son of a gun on his third tour in Iraq who thought nothing could rattle him. Then mortar shrapnel pierced his brain. The hard-charging officer from Dallas found himself in an empty hospital room one morning far from the battlefield, crying tears of rage and fear.
"Suddenly, when you're wounded, you know nothing. There is the confusion and the pills and feeling isolated from your squad," said the 41-year-old Col. Maxwell, former operations officer for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
"I was alone," he said, and that tormented him most of all.
A Marine never faces battle alone, he thought. The battle to heal should be no different.
A year later, the "wounded-warrior barracks" – officially known as Maxwell Hall – was christened at Camp Lejeune, a sprawling base on the North Carolina coast where Purple Hearts are nearly as common as pine trees.
Col. Maxwell had a wife and two children to go home to after he was wounded. But he thought of the Marines fresh from high school whose parents live in other states, and the men and women who joined the corps to get away from home or had none to return to.
Where would they go while their buddies were still at war?
Today, 30 injured Marines live together in former officers' quarters modified with wheelchair ramps and grab rails. Most of the staffers at the barracks are wounded, too.
The secretary of defense, the vice president, Army representatives, an Iraq war widow, even Miss USA all toured Maxwell Hall after it opened in November. And Camp Pendleton is creating a barracks for wounded Marines on the West Coast.

A new set of duties
There's no reveille for morning formation at Maxwell Hall. Many of the Marines assembled in the common room on this spring day couldn't stand at attention without crutches or canes.
But don't think Gunnery Sgt. Ken Barnes went soft after that roadside bomb blasted his arm. He's the top enlisted man in charge of the barracks – the one who helped Col. Maxwell sell the idea to commanders – and there isn't anything wrong with his vocal cords.
"Hi, ladies. ... It's 0800 and I still see Airsoft BBs," he said, eyeballing plastic ammunition strewn across the carpet "battlefield."

"Y'all are out of high school. Mama cut the umbilical cord years ago."
In the afternoons, they gathered outside the brick building to talk, some dragging on cigarettes or spitting chew. They e-mailed Marines in the field or watched videos they filmed of their firefights in Iraq.  But first, duty called.
Lance Cpl. Peter Dmitruk, 20, of North Olmsted, Ohio, used his scabby, skin-grafted arm to wipe the tables with a cloth. "If my mother sees me cleaning, I'm done. I won't be able to pull the 'Mom, my arm hurts' routine," he said.
Later that day, Sgt. Jack Durgala – an infantryman who loved his job so much that he tattooed its code, 0311, onto his arm – picked up a pellet and examined it between his trigger fingers.
"You can take the grunts out of the battle, but you can't take the battle out of the grunts," he said, tossing it in the trash.

Three squads
Sgt. Jonathan Brown, 23, a tall, blond Marine from Indianapolis, said his first month of convalescence at home was awesome.
His arm had been shredded by a friendly-fire missile during the November 2004 raid on Fallujah. Eight months and 17 surgeries later, Sgt. Brown resorted to weekly buzzcuts at the barber to stay busy.
"It was the only thing I could do to feel like a Marine," he said. "I was losing my mind."
In August, he went to work helping to organize the wounded-warrior barracks.
As the program expanded from just a few men, the team split into three squads. One heads to the Camp Lejeune hospital to coordinate doctors' appointments and medications and check on Marines arriving on medevac flights.
The others work in public affairs or serve as teachers' aides at Johnson Primary School.
A few months ago, Cpl. Juan Ramirez, 21, of Oklahoma City was climbing into a Humvee when the driver gunned it, flinging him to the ground.
Now, with his busted arm, he's bent over a worksheet helping an Argentine boy make sense of teacher Elizabeth Hudson's questions. Juan Cruz Hillman Segura, 7, a freckle-faced boy just starting school in America, can't speak much English.
"¿Qué va a hacer?" Cpl. Ramirez asked, looking at the worksheet about the growth cycle of bean plants and translating for the teacher: What will happen next?
"Flower!" Juan answered, thinking of the English word.
"Good job! ¡Excelente!" Mrs. Hudson said, beaming at the boy and the Marine.
'It ain't growing back'
When "Gunny" Barnes asked the Marines at the barracks who was getting out of the Corps soon, someone reminded Cpl. Timothy Maguire, 21, of St. Louis to raise his arm: "Stubby!"
Cpl. Maguire gamely raised the stump of his right shoulder and grinned.
You might as well have a good attitude, explained Cpl. Maguire, who works as a comptroller for the barracks. "It ain't growing back," he said.
The wounded Marines who live and work together in the barracks seem to be progressing faster than the others, said caseworkers and medical corpsmen at the base.
They know the guilt of leaving your team behind. They know what it's like to be stared at, about morphine dreams and the phantom burning pain of a nerve pushing its way through scar tissue.
"Everybody in this building knows what it means to get injured," said Joe. 
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