Operation Proper Exit III – A Photo Essay

Five US military Wounded Warriors prepare to re-deploy to Iraq prior to boarding a US Air Force C-130 on the third “Operation Proper Exit” tour, from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, December 28, 2009. Co-sponsored by the USO and the Troops First Foundation, the program is designed to help bring closure to wounded service members who have been injured in combat. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Captain Sam Brown of San Antonio, Texas (right) hugs his wife, Captain Amy Brown, who surprised him by unexpectedly showing up at an event to honor US military Wounded Warriors, at Al Faw Palace, Baghdad, Iraq, December 28, 2009. Attending are (left to right): Sergeant First Class Mike Schlitz, Sergeant Bill Congleton (Retired), and First Lieutenant Jim Kirchner (Retired). (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Five US military Wounded Warriors prepare to re-deploy to Iraq prior to boarding a US Air Force C-130 on the third “Operation Proper Exit” tour, from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, December 28, 2009. Co-sponsored by the USO and the Troops First Foundation, the program is designed to help bring closure to wounded service members who have been injured in combat. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Five US military Wounded Warriors prepare to re-deploy to Iraq prior to boarding a US Air Force C-130 on the third “Operation Proper Exit” tour, from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, December 28, 2009. Co-sponsored by the USO and the Troops First Foundation, the program is designed to help bring closure to wounded service members who have been injured in combat. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Five US military Wounded Warriors prepare to re-deploy to Iraq prior to boarding a US Air Force C-130 on the third “Operation Proper Exit” tour, from Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, December 28, 2009. Co-sponsored by the USO and the Troops First Foundation, the program is designed to help bring closure to wounded service members who have been injured in combat. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Sergeant First Class Josh Olson (right), who lost a leg in a 2003 RPG attack in Tal Afar, chats with military personnel who welcomed returning wounded warriors at an event at the Al Faw Palace, Baghdad, Iraq, December 28, 2009. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

US Army Chief of Staff Major General Joseph Anderson (second from right) holds a discussion with a group of Wounded Warriors (clockwise from left): Sergeant Bill Congleton (Retired) of Sutherlin, Oregon, Sergeant First Class Mike Schlitz of Moline, Illinois and Captain Sam Brown of San Antonio, Texas, at the Al Faw Palace, Baghdad, Iraq, December 28, 2009. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Captain Rob Brown, of San Antonio, Texas, assists Sergeant First Class Josh Olson, of Spokane, Washington, with his crutches as they exit a C-130 and are received by a US Air Force Honor Guard, on arrival at Sather Air Base, Baghdad, Iraq, December 28, 2009. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

So This Wounded Veteran Walks into a Bar…

Operation Proper Exit is a program that returns wounded warriors to the place of their injuries in the hopes of finding closure and a sense of purpose in their service.  Although many left the field of battle unconscious, only to wake up a world away at a later time, the men participating in OPE say that there is peace to be found in leaving the field for a second time, this time by their own volition.  That is the proper exit they deserve.

Photo by Katie Hayes for NPR

As the third iteration of Operation Proper Exit makes its way through the Persian Gulf, one story of another wounded veteran caught our attention. Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline suffered burns on almost half of his body after being wounded in Iraq in 2007.  Remarkably, he has turned this experience into – you ready for this? – a career in comedy.  And that’s no laughing matter.  Well, actually, it is.

Recently interviewed by Andrew Short for Punchline magazine, Henline conceded that his “ultimate goal is to put together a USO tour and give back to the veterans, using his injuries and comedy as an example of making the best of the darkest situations.”  How cool is that?  We’re so flattered.

If you live in the San Antonio, TX, area you can catch him live at Rivercenter Comedy Club.  Luckily for everyone else, NPR’s Terry Gildea interviewed Henline; you can hear the interview below.  To read a full transcript or view the acc0mpanying article, please visit NPR’s website.  We are incredibly inspired by his story and hope you will be, too.  And keep an eye on this blog for upcoming pictures and more from Operation Proper Exit.

Wounded Vet Takes Pain Of War To Comedy Club (via NPR)

Operation Proper Exit

Today, the USO is serving troops and their families all over the world.  Our top priority is to support those serving in harm’s way, those who have been wounded as a result and their families.  But advances in communication, aviation and medical technology means that thousands of wounded troops who would have died in earlier wars are now able to survive.

When an American troop falls on the battlefield, he or she is usually picked up by a med-evac helicopter within a matter of minutes and flown directly to an aid station or combat support hospital.  From the moment the first medic or corpsman reaches him, he will receive the absolute best medical care available on Earth.  Those seriously wounded will receive emergency surgery for stabilization and then be transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and on to Walter Reed or Bethesda here in DC, or to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

There, the long journey of putting body and life back together begins.  But there is one thing that no hospital stay or rehabilitative process can completely provide, and that is closure.  You see, when many of our troops are wounded in combat, they are evacuated so quickly that when they regain consciousness, they are in a hospital, separated from their unit, from their friends, and not yet in the arms of their families.

For some of these warriors, it is important for them to be able to retrace their steps, back to their Forward Operating Base, to the roads they patrolled, to the places where their lives were forever changed.  This retracing brings closure, and closure aids healing.

We’ve seen this with veterans of World War II retracing their steps to the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima.  We’ve also seen this with veterans of other wars.  Many of these men had to wait decades before they could return and achieve closure.

Americans often ask, “What else can we do for our troops that would be really special and meaningful?”

Operation Proper Exit is a great answer.

With USO support, the Troops First Foundation has begun taking some of our wounded veterans back to Iraq.  The first group, all amputees with new prosthetic limbs, recently retraced their steps.

Their mission was to answer one question:  Was it worth it?

Of course, this ultimately is a personal question for each of these brave troops.  We cannot experience what they have.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this short video that lets us tag along on their journey.