Army Brigade Commander Visits Wounded Troops

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2011 — The con­ver­sa­tion flowed eas­i­ly this morn­ing as Army Col. Sean M. Jenk­ins sat with sev­er­al 101st Air­borne Divi­sion sol­diers, talk­ing about every­thing from oper­a­tions heat­ing up in Afghanistan’s Pak­ti­ka province to the impact of a pos­si­ble gov­ern­ment shut­down on his deployed troops and their fam­i­lies back at Fort Camp­bell, Ky.
The set­ting was­n’t For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Sha­rana, Jenk­ins’ 4th Brigade Com­bat Team and Task Force Cur­ra­hee head­quar­ters, or one of its com­bat out­posts dot­ting the east­ern­most sec­tor of Region­al Com­mand East in Afghanistan.

Army Col. Sean M. Jenk­ins, com­man­der of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, vis­its with Army Sgt. Antho­ny Ver­ra, a mem­ber of the 4th BCT’s sis­ter 2nd “Strike” BCT who lost both legs to an impro­vised explo­sive device, at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter dur­ing Jenk­ins’ rest and recu­per­a­tion leave.
DOD pho­to by Don­na Miles
Click to enlarge

It was in a cafe­te­ria here at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter where Jenk­ins, trav­el­ing home for his mid-tour rest-and-recov­ery leave, paid a vis­it to check on his wound­ed troops. They gath­ered around the table, one in a wheel­chair, one with a cane, anoth­er rub­bing his steel-plat­ed leg that always aches when the barom­e­ter drops, eager for news about the units and com­rades they left behind. 

The 101st “Scream­ing Eagles” have suf­fered heavy loss­es dur­ing their deploy­ment as part of the surge force in Afghanistan. The 4th Brigade Com­bat Team alone has lost 15 sol­diers since it deployed last sum­mer, with scores more wound­ed and more than 40 mede­vacced out for advanced med­ical care. 

So when Jenk­ins left Afghanistan for the first time in sev­en months for his mid-tour leave — before see­ing his wife Karin, his bub­bly, blonde 3‑year-old daugh­ter, or his beloved gold­en retriev­er and black Labrador dogs at Fort Camp­bell — he spent sev­er­al days with his wound­ed war­riors at Brooke Army Med­ical Cen­ter in San Anto­nio, Texas; and Wal­ter Reed. “I came to say thanks,” Jenk­ins said, “and to talk with them about what is going on for­ward and how their team­mates are doing.” 

The chit-chat today in Wal­ter Reed’s cafe­te­ria, hall­ways and the Mil­i­tary Advanced Train­ing Cen­ter where sol­diers receive inten­sive phys­i­cal ther­a­py treat­ments bounced from one top­ic to anoth­er. They praised a hero­ic pri­vate first class from the unit who was undaunt­ed as his unit faced the ene­my, dis­cussed the mer­its of the lead­er­ship nov­el, “Once an Eagle,” talked about improve­ments in mil­i­tary hous­ing and heard news of the new 120 mm pre­ci­sion-guid­ed mor­tar muni­tions round the brigade just received in Afghanistan. But beyond the casu­al and some­times not-so-casu­al con­ver­sa­tion, Jenk­ins worked to gauge how his sol­diers are far­ing as they recov­er from lost limbs, shat­tered bones and oth­er dev­as­tat­ing injuries. 

“I try to open up a stream of con­ver­sa­tion with them about how they are doing, how they are being treat­ed, how their med­ical care is going and what their con­cerns are,” he said. Through­out his con­ver­sa­tions, he pulled out a pock­et-size note­book to jot down names, email address­es and mes­sages to pass on or requests to fol­low up on. 

“These guys deserve every­thing we can do for them, and noth­ing less,” Jenk­ins said. “They need to under­stand that we are here for them, what­ev­er it is they need.” Once of the most wel­comed things Jenk­ins deliv­ers to the troops — whether his own or mem­bers of anoth­er 101st Air­borne Divi­sion ele­ment — is reas­sur­ance that they haven’t been forgotten. 

“They are still part of the team,” he said. “And that is part of the mes­sage. I tell them, ‘Just because you are back here, attached or assigned to one of the hos­pi­tals for a peri­od of time, you are still part of the unit.’ It is impor­tant they under­stand that link­age is not broken.” 

Many of the wound­ed war­riors call that some of the best med­i­cine they could get. 

“It’s very impor­tant to me. It’s part of your men­tal fit­ness,” said Army 1st Lt. Aaron Palmer, a 1st Bat­tal­ion, 506th Infantry Reg­i­ment sol­dier whose femur was bro­ken in three places and his ili­ac artery destroyed dur­ing an ene­my attack in October. 

“I can’t tell you how close we are over­seas,” Palmer said. “Your unit becomes like your fam­i­ly, and it’s real­ly great when that fam­i­ly keeps in touch with you.…Every time I see that [Scream­ing Eagle] patch, I know it’s a brother.” 

“It helps me a lot,” agreed Army Sgt. Antho­ny Ver­ra of the 4th BCT’s sis­ter 2nd “Strike” BCT who lost both legs to an impro­vised explo­sive device in Sep­tem­ber. “Vis­its like this are real­ly motivational.” 

Army Pfc. Corey Kent, anoth­er “Strike” sol­dier, said he’s been “blown away” by the out­pour­ing he’s received from his fel­low Scream­ing Eagles since arriv­ing at Wal­ter Reed in mid-July, just three weeks into his deployment. 

Kent was on a patrol near Kan­da­har, called in to pro­vide secu­ri­ty for anoth­er unit that had been hit by an IED. He suf­fered the same fate, los­ing two legs, one above the knee and one at the hip, as well as all the fin­gers on his left hand. 

Today, he told Jenk­ins he had hoped to make the mil­i­tary a career and still plans to explore options the Army may open to him. “I’d feel like I was giv­ing up if I just leave,” Kent said. 

Jenk­ins said he encour­ages his sol­diers not to let their wounds pre­vent them from striv­ing for their dreams. “There are no closed doors,” he tells them. “Only you close the door if you phys­i­cal­ly want to close the door.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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