By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2009 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted on a recent visit to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., that wounded veterans recovering there all had one thing in common.
“These are individuals, without arms and legs at that point, who had one common desire -- and that was to get back with their unit,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said Aug. 25 at the presentation ceremony for the 2009 International Brain Mapping and Interoperative Surgical Planning Society’s Beacon of Courage and Dedication Awards in Boston. “Their only concern was, ‘How do I get out of here and get back with them?’”
A desire to serve again also was expressed by one of the award recipients, retired Army Sgt. Maj. Colin Rich, who recovered from two traumatic brain injuries and returned to active duty each time.
And while he was given top-notch medical care for each injury, Mullen credits Rich’s wife with completing the healing process.
“While we honor Colin tonight, we do so only because he has been incredibly supported by Nancy, who represents thousands and thousands of spouses and children and parents who’ve made such a difference to those who’ve been wounded and who offer so much for the future of our country as Colin does tonight,” Mullen said. “It is an honor and a privilege to recognize, introduce and be able to say for over 2 million men and women who serve, how special you are, Colin … and now, have been and always will be.”
Speaking off the cuff because his head injuries have made reading difficult, Rich thanked the chairman.
“Admiral Mullen’s kind of stolen some of my thunder,” he joked. “He talked about my wife and all the other countless spouses and family members out there that have borne the brunt of this war as much as any soldier has.”
His said his wife, Nancy, has been his pharmacist, his neurologist, counselor and masseuse.
“She was the first thing I saw after countless seizures. She was the last thing I saw after trying to get to sleep when I was in miserable pain,” Rich said. “I’ve told her on countless occasions, ‘Nancy, have I told you I love you today and thank you for everything you’ve done for me?’
“Today, I want to say it publicly,” he added. “Nancy, have told you I love you and thanked you for everything that you have done for me?’”
He went on to accept the award on her behalf.
Rich joined the Army Reserve on April 13, 1981, and was recruited into active duty June 28, 1985. By late 1986, as a private, he had been assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment as an infantryman. Eight years and four months later, Staff Sergeant Rich moved on to his next assignment and several schools, which led him to serve in the ranks of 1st Special Operations Detachment, also known as Delta Force, in May 1994.
Later that year, a .45-caliber bullet “bounced off the front of my head,” he said. “If I’d been an inch taller, we wouldn’t be talking here right now.”
Fast-forward to Shken, Afghanistan, on Dec. 28, 2002, and Rich was shot a second time in the head.
“OK, this is no kidding,” Rich told the crowd gathered for the award presentation. “A .308 bullet hit me in the back of the head. If I was one inch taller, again, we would not be having this conversation today, and that is no exaggeration.”
Rich served on active duty for another four years before retiring in 2007 with full disability. He’s faced multiple challenges since the injuries, and he has a guide dog primarily to help him overcome visual impairment, but he still hasn’t let the challenges he faces slow him down.
He’s training for a 300-mile solo venture on the Appalachian Trail.
ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff, who suffered traumatic brain injury while reporting on hostilities in Iraq, also was presented with the Beacon of Courage and Dedication Award.
The award was part of the 6th Annual World Conference for Brain Mapping and Image Guided Therapy, co-hosted by the society and publisher of scientific information, Elsevier.