Operation Proper Exit: Wounded Warriors Leave Afghanistan On Own Terms

KABUL, Afghanistan — In pouring rain, five wounded warriors received a hero’s welcome at Headquarters, International Security Assistance Force, as they returned to Afghanistan for the first time after being injured and evacuated from the battlefield.

“I wanted to pay respect and homage to the great sacrifice they made for our country,” said Staff Sgt. James Watts, a human resources specialist. He was one of many lining the streets to greet the warriors with cheers and applause.

Operation Proper Exit stages a tour to forward operating bases in Afghanistan for Soldiers recovered from injuries suffered during combat operations. This program provides them the opportunity to make a “proper exit” on their own terms, as they walk to the aircraft and climb the ramp, rather than being medically evacuated.

“As a team, to walk off the battlefield rather than carried off it is a big thing mentally,” said Capt. Matt Anderson, who is stationed at Fort Carson.

Anderson and three members of his platoon — retired Sgt. Daniel Harrison of Atlanta, Texas; Sgt. Ryan McIntosh of San Antonio; and retired Spc. Andrew Miller from Houston — were all supporting Operation Enduring Freedom when their tours were cut short due to combat injuries.

“I stepped on an anti-personnel land mine that rearranged most of my lower right leg,”Anderson said.

From March 12-16, 2014, Anderson, the three former members of his platoon and Sgt. Noah Galloway, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, visited four regional commands in Afghanistan. While there, they shared their stories with servicemembers and leadership.

“I loved being in the military. I saw it as a career that I was going to do that was cut short by injuries,” said Galloway. “I haven’t put a uniform on since they cut it off of me Dec. 19, 2005, in Iraq.”

Galloway was driving a Humvee through Yusafiah, Iraq, when a roadside bomb shattered his left jaw, left arm and both legs. He woke up six days later, on Christmas Day, in Walter Reed Medical Center, Md. Doctors amputated his left arm above the elbow and his left leg above the knee.

“The opportunity to put the uniform back on and deploy, even for a short trip, is incredible,” he said.

But none of the Soldiers were focused on their past. They all looked toward the future.

“It doesn’t matter what your injuries are, what setbacks you have in life, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. Whatever it is, you can overcome them with the right tools and the right knowledge,” said Galloway, now a personal trainer at the YMCA in Alabaster, Ala.

Anderson said, “99 percent of the Soldiers that are injured are athletes and very competitive, and they’ll do everything they can to prove the fact there is no difference between them and somebody else. They’ll actually do things far above and beyond the scope of imagination of a normal Soldier or civilian. They will do things like run a marathon, Tough Mudder competitions and hiking a mountain.”

At the end of their trip, the warriors were grateful for the opportunity to come back.

“This is something you can’t put a price tag on. It’s priceless for all of us that are here,” Anderson said.

Fort Carson’s Capt. Matt Anderson, left, reconnects with Capt. Daniel Possley, a surgeon assigned to Task Force 31, during Operation Proper Exit, at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 13, 2004. Possley was Anderson’s surgeon at Brooke Army Medical Center, now San Antonio Military Medical Center. (Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Darien J. Bjorndal)
By Air Force Staff Sgt. David Zheng
International Security Assistance Force Headquarters