December 15, 2005

Positivity: N.C. Marine barracks helps wounded troops

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:11 am

The team concept is uniquely brought into the recovery process:

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.

From the first day of boot camp, a Marine is part of a team, rarely serving or fighting alone. That ends when a Marine is severely injured in combat and rushed from the field for medical care. Those without family to care for them at home can find themselves alone with no place to go.

“They don’t even have uniforms,” said Lt. Gen. James Amos, commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force. “A lot of their stuff was left in Iraq or lost.”

To give recovering Marines daily support and companionship, the military created the Wounded Warrior Support Section, a renovated barracks at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, the Corps’ largest base on the East Coast.

There is nothing else like it in the Marine Corps, Amos said. Some battalion commanders were initially reluctant about the idea, he said, but the experience of wounded Marines living and recovering with each other has proven to aid their healing process.

“Some of these kids have seen things that few humans will see in life,” said Amos, whose commands include more than 47,000 Marines and sailors. “When you’re in a huge gun battle, you come away with thoughts and memories. Some may struggle with it. What we found is these kids need to talk to one another.”

Unlike a typically spartan Marine barracks, the new facility has the look and feel of an all-suite motel, with carpeted hallways, separate bedrooms and sitting areas, and door handles and bathroom bars designed specifically for injured residents

“If they went to a regiment (barracks), there’s nothing there for them,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ken Barnes, the top noncommissioned officer on support section. “It’s four walls and a bed. Here, they’ve got a little bit more. But the number one thing is we’ve got Marines here who understand what it was to be wounded, because they all were.”

In previous wars, most of those severely wounded in combat would have left the military. But leaps in medical technology mean that even amputees can return to the battlefield, Barnes said, citing a Marine lieutenant with a prosthetic leg now leading a combat unit in Iraq. Up to 30 percent of those wounded will remain in the Corps, Amos said.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 955 Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force have been wounded in combat, including more than 200 troops from Lejeune that deployed in March.

Most of the 200 are with parents at home or in hospitals around the country, Amos said, but others are without an obvious place to convalesce.

Lance Cpl. Johnny Burra, 19, of Rochester, N.Y., is among the about a dozen Marines living in the new barracks, arriving after shrapnel ripped through his legs and broke two bones in his left foot in September.

“This place is awesome because first and foremost you’re with other people who have been wounded and people who just came back from Afghanistan and Iraq,” Burra said. “We talk about getting wounded, we talk about Iraq or Afghanistan. We talk about back home, pretty much everything.”

He also said he appreciates the ramps that make it easier for him to get around on crutches, as well as dependable transportation to the base hospital, chow halls and base shopping mall.

It cost about $50,000 to upgrade the barracks on the ground floor of a building near Amos’ headquarters on the New River.

Computers ready for Internet surfing greet incoming Marines in one room, while in another plush recliners and sofas line walls in view of a big-screen television.

….. The Corps has plans to open a similar facility at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and at other bases. Being in such a barracks “makes the time easier,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan Cahill, 19, of Baton Rouge, La., who was wounded in the leg by a roadside bomb.

“It’s a big change from being with people you’ve been with the past year,” Cahill said, “to all of a sudden not seeing them at all.”

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