Injuries Can’t Keep These Warriors Down

   < < Go Back
from Wall Street Journal,

Wounded veterans joined a former president for the annual W100K bike ride in the Texas countryside.

They came to ride mountain bikes in Central Texas last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Most of the 16 riders had never met, but all had suffered grievous combat injuries, traveled difficult paths to recovery, and demonstrated incredible character. These Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans rode in the Bush Institute’s fourth annual W100K, hosted by former President George W. Bush to honor wounded warriors and draw attention to groups promoting physical activity as a vital aid to their healing.

One of them was Staff Sgt. Spencer Milo. During a firefight in Iraq in 2007, he was manning a .50 caliber machine gun when his Humvee collided with two trucks. He hit his head. The medics said he’d had a concussion, told him to drink more water, and sent him back to war.

But the headaches and pain persisted. Once stateside, he went for tests and was told his injury had caused a mass in his brain—and he had six months to live. Seven months later, he got another opinion. Though he’d suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the mass was treatable. He wasn’t dying.

So Spencer deployed to Afghanistan. On Jan. 19, 2011, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden vest 8 feet away. Blown 15 feet through the air, Spencer charged back into the smoke to drag a wounded comrade to safety, meanwhile returning fire. Riddled with shrapnel to his entire left side and face, he lost his hearing in his right ear and most in his left, and fractured three discs in his back. He would have died except the bomber put his vest on incorrectly, so its explosive force blew inward, not outward.

Spencer was treated for half a year at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, then for a month at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed. Now medically retired, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and daughter. He serves as a Veteran Transition Specialist for Hire Heroes USA, helping comrades re-enter civilian life.

Having a job when he retired meant Spencer could afford his medications while the Veterans Administration took half a year to process his paperwork. But many vets are unemployed and can’t pay, and some preferred drugs are not in the VA’s formulary. Spencer will do anything to change this: He lost six comrades in Iraq and Afghanistan and four to suicide since returning home.

Spencer … and their comrades strongly dislike the word “disorder” in “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” believing it stigmatizes an injury, discourages veterans from seeking help, and closes doors in the civilian world. They’re right.

Their stories are deeply moving. The veterans radiate an incandescent spirit—the product, perhaps, of overcoming incredible obstacles and living honorable, meaningful lives.

After dinner Friday in the Bush’s Prairie Chapel ranch home, a local music group sang gospel tunes. The chorus in one of their songs—”Even in the darkness you can see the light”—drew upon Psalm 139.

The W100K riders have been through darkness. Yet for three days last week, they rode in the bright sunlight of late spring days, celebrating lives of service and comrades-in-arms with a former commander in chief who loves and cherishes them. It was an honor to be among them.

More From