Medal of Honor recipient retired Army Master Sgt. Leroy Petry and five other wounded warriors visited U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden for a meet and greet on January 13.
The retired soldiers and Marines shared their stories of trauma, suffering, and hope. They also brought a message of suicide prevention and resiliency, imploring audience members to not hesitate to reach out for help.
Master Sgt. Leroy Petry
Petry received the Medal of Honor for saving lives when he picked up a live grenade and threw it away from his fellow Rangers in Afghanistan in 2008. As he was releasing the grenade, it detonated, amputating his right hand, among other injuries.
In the days that followed, he drew strength from other injured service members he was in the hospital with who, he said, had worse injuries than he did and seemed to be handling it well.
It’s important for people to remember they’re not alone and to ask for help, he said.
“We all face moments of adversity…depression,” he said. “And it’s okay to reach out to those people around you for support and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this. Can you help me with it?’”
Cpl. Matt Bradford
After waking up from a three-week coma, retired Marine Cpl. Matt Bradford said he hated the world. He had lost his legs and his vision when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated underneath him in Iraq in 2007. But it was the people around him who helped him see that “I’m still a Marine, and Marines don’t quit,” he said.
Bradford used that mentality to heal himself so that he could then go on to help others.
“My injuries are not my weakness,” he said. “They’re my strength. And I’m going to use that as motivation each and every day to go out and attack whatever obstacle lies in front of me.”
Cpl. Rory Hamill
Marine Cpl. Rory Hamill, who grew up in an abusive home, said the Marines became the family he never had.
After stepping on an IED in Afghanistan and the injuries that followed, he contemplated suicide, he said.
Hamill said thinking about his children prevented him from pulling the trigger.
Then he decided to reach out for the help he needed.
“It was a very long process to get to the point where I’m at now,” he said. “I had to accept responsibility for my behavior. I had to seek mental help, seek physical help; I had to do a whole bunch of things. I had to help other people, which in turn wound up helping me.”
Sgt. 1st Class Joe Healey
Between 2012 and 2015, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Healey had nine deployments. After separating from the military and starting college, he realized he was alone, he said. He began self-medicating with alcohol and knew he needed to seek help, but he said his attitude got in the way. He said that although he had never contemplated suicide, he found himself standing on top of a seven-story building ready to jump. He sought treatment, then relapsed before becoming more self-aware. He now encourages others to be honest with themselves about how they’re really feeling and “make that call” for help.
Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson lost his leg in Iraq in 2003. He self-medicated with alcohol after his injury, but after some time he realized it didn’t solve his problems.
“I’ve looked in the bottom of a lot of bottles, and the answer’s not there,” he said. “But I leaned on my friends, my family, my faith, and that got me through a lot of stuff.”
The main thing that has helped him through the hard times is his group of 12 friends from the unit he deployed with.
“Every day we check in with each other…. A phone call saves a life. If a friend asks you how you’re doing, don’t lie. It’s okay to raise your hand and say, ‘I’m not having a good day today.’”
He encouraged others to reach out when they need help and be there for others who may need it.
“Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and don’t be afraid to give a shoulder to somebody and help them out, because you never know when you’re going to need it.”
Olson became a competitive rifle shooter for the Army and the first active duty member to make the Paralympic team. He became involved in adaptive sports and will be going to the Netherlands in May to compete in the Warrior Games.
Master Sgt. Chris Corbin
When retired Army Master Sgt. Chris Corbin lost both legs below the knee to an IED in Afghanistan, medical professionals at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center gave him a timeline of 18 months to learn to walk, do some athletic activity, and then medically retire.
“I don’t like that plan,” he recalled saying.
After five months, he returned to duty with 7th Special Forces group. He then realized physically and mentally he was not okay and shouldn’t have left that early. He said he struggled with having been everybody’s go-to person before his injury and now having to ask for help.
Corbin described himself as an empath and said he used that trait to his advantage.
“It helped me to start helping other folks,” he said.
After visiting Wiesbaden, the wounded warriors, sponsored by the Troops First Foundation (www.troopsfirstfoundation.org), travelled to Ramstein and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to better understand the process of their evacuation from combat to care and treatment.
This article was adapted from an original story by Emily Jennings, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.