NEW KABUL COMPOUND, Afghanistan – U.S. military personnel, civilian contractors and members of the NATO Alliance waited March 15 for the arrival of five wounded heroes (Soldiers) — guests of Operation Proper Exit and their mentor to arrive at the New Kabul Compound.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, deputy commander for support; Brig. Gen. Wayne Eyre, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan; Rear Adm. Althea H. Coetzee, director of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, operational contracts; Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, deputy commander; and Sgt. Maj. Gerald Green, NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, stood at the head of the walkway to greet the honored Soldiers.
As the wounded heroes walked up the NKC sidewalk, they shook hands with many wellwishers before entering the headquarters building.
The Soldiers were honored guests and participants of Operation Proper Exit, a program designed to recognize the sacrifice of wounded U.S. warriors.
In his welcoming remarks, Colt did not mince words.
“Men of action,… you’ve made a huge difference,” Colt said.
Once inside USFOR-A headquarters, the visiting Soldiers had breakfast with Soldiers from NMT-A, USFOR-A, and ISAF. There they had a chance to tell war stories and meet brothers-in-arms, freely discussing their feelings, thoughts and opinions as to why they were there.
After breakfast they were briefed on the status of the mission, U.S. Forces and the state of the Afghan forces, and how Afghans were taking responsibility for the security of their nation.
One of the Soldiers, Sgt. Ryan McIntosh, said he felt he needed to know whether it was worth it or not.
McIntosh was wounded in 2010. At the time was assigned to 4th Infantry Division, 1st Brigade, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt.
He described his life-changing event in detail. His unit was conducting what he described as a normal foot patrol. They were about 100 meters from being back on post and he had to jump a small canal. As McIntosh jumped, he landed on a mine — at the time, he had been in the Army seven months.
“A huge plus to come back with the guys I have been with. You really don’t hear a lot about it (the war), back home… you kind of wonder, was it worth it,” McIntosh said when asked why he came back.
He said he needed to know whether he made a difference.
“What I did was help them (Afghans) realize that they needed to be the driving force ... and to drive on, continue the mission,” said McIntosh.
“What a great thing it is, to be able to spend time with fellow brothers in arms … who I believe faced a difficult decision to come back to Afghanistan,” said Col. Steven Merkel, chief of staff for the NATO training mission, describing his feelings about the Operation Proper Exit Soldiers and its mission.
“It’s so incredibly special to hear their stories, to hear them talk about their Families and the brothers they left behind…” he added.
Merkel summed it up by saying that it was days like these that reminded him of why Soldiers sacrifice — it’s because Soldiers believe in the cause.
According to Operation Proper Exit’s Facebook page, the program was founded in 2009, as an off-shoot of another non-profit, veterans program. The program was called Troops First Foundation, founded in August 2008 by two college basketball coaches, Rick Kell and David Feherty.
Operation Proper Exit is for those wounded warriors who are making positive gains in their recovery. These Soldiers are hand-selected and invited to return to the battlefield with fellow wounded Soldiers to observe the enduring legacy of their sacrifice and to be offered an opportunity to get a sense of closure to their mission.
As the brief concluded, Colt presented each Soldier with a flag that had flown over NKC and a certificate signed by him, thanking them for everything they have done and for the continued success of their recovery.