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Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Wounded warrior comes home

St. Marys man recovering from injuries in Afghanistan

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - Relearning to write, tie his shoes and button his shirt is the new normal for a local soldier injured fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Brian Bradley, 29, who is returning to his hometown of St. Marys this week with a Purple Heart, has been undergoing months of therapy after he was hit by gunfire in a roadside attack in November.
His patrol of about 25 men was ambushed in RC North Baghlan Province by a group of 30 militia. Bradley's hand was decimated by gunfire, and his lower right arm was later amputated. He also was hit by shrapnel on several areas of his body, face and head and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). After the incident, he developed a blood clot in the groin due to extreme blood loss.
"We were bringing food and other supplies to the base, but the only way back was blocked by protesters who weren't happy with the (Afghani) government and the election results," Bradley said of the attack on Nov. 24. "Then we were hit, and I noticed the group that hit us was shouting in Arabic and not the native Afghani language. I later learned they were one of the elite Pakistani groups that had a mixture of Al-Qaida and Taliban members.
"Their mission was to injure as many as they could and drag away wounded or dead U.S. soldiers to use for their propaganda," he added.
Bradley was in his fourth deployment with Bravo Company 1-87 Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y. He said the group of soldiers was hit by a 105mm Recoilless rifle, which fires like an artillery cannon and is used to pierce tanks. The lead truck was mechanically disabled by the attack so the U.S. soldiers were stuck in the fight. Bradley was in the fourth and last truck.
The rifle's rounds easily penetrated the vehicles and took off Bradley's right hand and the truck driver's left hand. Shrapnel went everywhere, Bradley said. Two other soldiers were knocked out.
"Although we each lost a hand and took a lot of shrapnel, it was a rush; we just kept fighting," Bradley said. "When my guys finally pulled me from the small escape hatch they strapped me to a stretcher. I remember everything. I couldn't move, but I kept telling my guys what to do. Finally they told me to shut up. They had it. It was a hell of a fight."
He received two blood transfusions and was eventually taken to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he is still undergoing occupational and physical therapy.
His mother, Colleen, recalled she was making a birthday cake for Brian's sister when she received the phone call that her son was seriously injured.
"I got a phone call, which is so much better than a knock at the door," she said.
A licensed practical nurse, she took a leave of absence from her job at Mercer County YMCA to stay with her son at Walter Reed.
Bradley enlisted in the Army shortly after his high school graduation in 2001. He was in basic training when the terrorists attacked on Sept. 11.
"Recovery is going well," Bradley said this week. "I'm getting ready to do my occupational therapy now, and I'll have some brain exercises with a computer program to test my TBI."
He was right-hand dominant and adjusting to being left-handed has been difficult, he said.
"I wouldn't wish this on anybody," he said. "It sucks. But I'll get through it like I've gotten through everything else in my life. I'm adjusting more easily, depending on which prosthetic I use. It's a different life."
Bradley said in the beginning he felt phantom pains in the hand that is no longer there. Now he feels his hand in his arm.
"It's hard to describe, but I can feel my fingernails in my arm," he said.
One of Bradley's prosthetics is electric and works with the nerve endings in his forearm. He said he will show his arm and demonstrate the prosthetic during his homecoming reception at the VFW in St. Marys on Saturday. (See sidebar for details.)
Bradley served many roles during his military career. His first deployment was to Kuwait to patrol the Iraqi border. His second was to northern Iraq to clear the road to Baghdad and patrol the Iranian border. His third was to Baghdad. Despite his injury and therapy he will have his entire life, he hopes his military career hasn't ended.
He plans to talk with the military medical board about his future in another year or so.
"I won't be able to be an infantryman anymore without a hand," he said. "But the board will assess my condition and find a job I can do in the military."

A time to celebrate:
A homecoming celebration is planned Saturday in St. Marys for Sgt. Brian Bradley, who is returning home after being wounded in Afghanistan. He is the first St. Marys soldier to be wounded in action since the Vietnam War.
Bradley, Bravo Company 1-87 Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., will arrive after attending his sister's graduation from Ohio Dominican College in Columbus.
He will be met at the Bellefontaine rest stop on westbound U.S. 33 by riders, cars and buses and will be escorted to Auglaize County by the Logan County Sheriff's Department. Auglaize County Sheriff's Department will escort him from the Auglaize line to St. Marys, where the local police will take over at K-Mart.
From K-Mart, he will be taken to Main Street, then Spring Street and finally to the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, 1309 E. Spring St. He is expected to arrive at the VFW at approximately 4:15 p.m., for a special public reception.
Anyone wishing to join the escort should be at the rest stop no later than 2:30 p.m. They will leave between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Cost to be in the escort is $5 with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Bradley family.
"This is really a great thing the city is doing," Bradley said. "Awesome."
- Amy Kronenberger
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