Operation Proper Exit Continues to Provide Healing and Closure

Retired U.S. Army 1st Lt. Edwin Salau and seven other wounded warriors speak, as part of Operation Proper Exit, to an audience of U.S. Soldiers, stationed at Camp Ramadi, Iraq, Oct. 15, 2009. Operation Proper Exit is a therapeutic program that brings injured Soldiers seeking a sense of closure, back to the place they were injured. Salau was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, Nov. 2004 and lost his left leg. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod/Released)

Operation Proper Exit is a groundbreaking program that affords wounded Troops and veterans from around the US to retrace the last steps they took before being injured.  Sponsored by Troops First Foundation and The USO, Operation Proper Exit finished its fourth tour in April and the fifth group is out right now.

As reported by NBC Chicago, the current crop of soldiers is accompanied by the Union League of Chicago’s COO Jonathan McCabe, who is using a Facebook page to provide updates on the mission.  One participant is Staff Sgt. Brian Beem, who had the lower part of his right leg amputated after being injured in Baghdad in 2006.  Like most of the men, Beem seeks a sense of closure from the experience: “I’d like to see (if) the efforts put forth actually did something and be able to hear from other soldiers, whether or not things are better or things are worse,” Beem told CBS affiliate KTVA. “I’d like to be able to see some kind of end product for what we did.”

We hope his experience will be like that of Sergeant (Ret.) Juan Arredondo who, on last month’s trip, reunited with former colleague Command Sergeant Major Robinson.  “Sgt. Arredondo and I were deployed to Korea and Iraq together. I remember when he was injured. Seeing him today makes me feel some sadness, but also joy at the same time. He is here, in Iraq, standing,” said the command sergeant major to Spc. Crystal M. O’Neal.

“I’ll never forget when we redeployed, and he met me and the other guys getting off the plane. We were so happy to see him there, recovered,” he said. “Moments like that and this one, today, are priceless.”

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“Socks for Soldiers” Campaign at St. John University

There are lots of ways to support the troops, from volunteering at your local USO Center to donating basics items like toothbrushes, books, or soap.  One item we often get requests for is socks.  And – as frequent guest blogger Brian Price found out – a seemingly simple everyday item can make a big difference…

PR Students Collect 608 pairs and $1300 for Our Troops
By Brian Price

As the academic school year winds down for students across the country, St. John’s University students are recognizing the thousands of young Americans in the military, posted in combat zones and disaster areas. In appreciation, a St. Johns Public Relations Campaigns Seminar class created a semester-long campaign to collect socks and raise money to buy them.

It began with research, which revealed that our troops frequently run out of clean, dry socks. Some units are deployed where there is no running water, so they can’t even wash them. The students found this quite remarkable. “I can’t believe something we all take for granted is so critical to the comfort of the men and women who make so many sacrifices for us, “ commented Tanya Dainoski, a senior in the class. The students collected socks and donations by holding bake sales and selling refreshments at athletic events. “It was fun and people responded because it is such a good cause,” added Keeley Mangeno, another class member. One of the most successful fundraisers was a pie-throw organized by Jayson Castillo and his fraternity brothers. “We got a lot of cooperation from the faculty, who were willing to suffer the embarrassment of a face full of shaving cream because they knew the money would go to socks for the troops.” Their own professor, Jane Paley, was one of them. “It was fun, though custard would have tasted better!”

The fundraising events culminated in a “Dance Through the Decades” benefit featuring hit music from the fifties to the present. “Something for everyone to dance to,” commented Ashlea Irick, who spent most of the evening on the dance floor.

The University Commons, or UC as it is known on campus, was decorated with American flags and colorful balloons. An extravagant buffet was underwritten, so the students wouldn’t have to spend any of the proceeds. Josh Peters was especially adamant: “We wanted every cent we raised to go to our troops, not to the party.”

The dance attracted classmates, friends and faculty.

Vance Toure is a senior and PR major: “Socks are one of the overlooked necessities for the troops. Tonight’s fundraiser brings the community together in the name of a great cause.”

Clearly the plan worked; big boxes at the entrance to the dance were overflowing with sweat socks.

When 50 students lined up to do the electric slide at the urging of DJ Zeke, who volunteered to spin tunes at the dance, Prof. Mark Prendergast, a Vietnam veteran and former Army Sergeant watched from the sidelines. “St. John’s University is an institution built around the notion service; it’s energizing to see students come out and support the troops regardless of their feelings on the war.”

Dr. John DiMarco, Director of the Undergraduate Public Relations program added: “The lessons of the curriculum educate the students while simultaneously giving back to society.”

The students agree, including Maria Kirsch, a senior and P.R. major: “This class was a great opportunity to give back. I have several family members in active service, so this is event is meaningful on multiple levels.” Amanda Wilkinson, another student in the class, got support for the initiative from both her father and grandfather, both of whom served in the military.

The best part was the fun the students were having celebrating our troops. Student Sydney Cohn stopped dancing just long enough to sum it up:

“A Friday night dance gave students a chance to socialize with the greater result: hundreds of pairs of socks will be donated to the troops.”

If you’d like to find ways for your school or college group to fundraise or have a donation drive for items like socks, please contact your local USO or send us an email. Brian Price is a writer for SNY, the online home for all things NY sports. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Brian Price and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.