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PostPosted: Thu Apr 15, 2021 3:17 pm 
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SNJ 4/17 Dignified Transfer US. Army Staff Sgt. Mathew Hess

Rally: FB69 8201 Tinicum Ave. Philadelphia
Rally Time: 1245
KSU: 1320

Secondary rally:WAWA 602 N. Black Horse Pike, Mt Ephraim
rally time:1200

Since Mathews accident in 2002 he has since returned to Afghanistan as a civilian contractor where he has recently lost his life. See the article below about Mathew...

Out on the distant perimeter of this pockmarked former Soviet jet strip, unexploded rockets, artillery shells and bomb fragments litter the tarmac from past battles too numerous to count.

The grave of an Afghan boy lies amid the debris, his small body covered with a thin shroud of rock and dirt. A tiny green flag marks the spot, neatly trimmed with shell casings lined up end to end like border stones. The boy wandered away from the concrete into a dusty, barren field that -- seeded with land mines -- proved even more inhospitable.

The most lethal explosives lying around are also the most recent -- unexploded, bright yellow cluster "bomblets," about the size of frozen juice cans, dropped by U.S. warplanes last fall during the Taliban's final days here on the Shomali plain, 35 miles north of Kabul.

Despite the arrival of American troops, every step here is still dangerous.

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Hess saw the bomblets scattered about as he gathered up old Soviet 57mm rockets on Dec. 18. His unit's mission at Bagram was to disable these rusting explosives before they blew up the wrong people. He assumed the area he was policing had been a Taliban outpost, presumably free of mines, since it had been so heavily bombed by the Americans. But in a country plagued by 10 million mines -- including $3 plastic devices the size of hockey pucks that are designed to maim, not kill -- it's doubtful even the Taliban knew where most were buried.

Hess remembers the explosion, a ringing in his ears, and lying on the ground thinking to himself, Don't look down. "I didn't want to look at it," Hess says weeks later, back home in Odenton, in Anne Arundel County. "I didn't want to give myself any more problems. I didn't feel any pain right away, but I knew something bad had happened to my leg."

The other soldiers in his unit, the 744th Ordnance Company, found his left foot the next day, 30 feet away. By then, Hess was lying on starched white sheets amid the antiseptic smell of a field hospital in Uzbekistan, beginning the rest of his life without it.

Hazardous Duty Everywhere In the modern American style of war -- which is heavily dependent upon clerks, airlift pilots and other specialists required to transport and assemble the Pentagon war machine in distant lands -- support personnel like Hess are maimed and killed more frequently than combat infantrymen or fighter pilots. Only 12 of the 31 U.S. military personnel killed in and around Afghanistan since the war on terrorism began last October have died on the battlefield.

The first, Air Force Master Sgt. Evander Andrews, died in a forklift accident Oct. 10 in Qatar. The next two, both Army Rangers, perished in a helicopter crash in Pakistan 10 days later.

By the time Hess stepped on the mine here a week before Christmas, only three Americans had died on the battlefield, and they had been killed in a friendly-fire incident.

Firing weapons at enemy troops is inherently more dangerous than operating forklifts and even disposing of bombs. But since the Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon has come to rely on air power and advanced technology, not boots on the ground. (Even after a major battle earlier this month, which produced the largest planeload of wounded soldiers to arrive at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since Vietnam, the combat troops had suffered only limb wounds -- a testament to the protective power of Kevlar body armor.)

Hess's father, Fran, a 58-year-old carpet layer who lives in Berlin, N.J., said his son, like many an American boy who grew up playing with G.I. Joes, wishes his injury had come in a firefight with the enemy. "He would have felt better if he went down getting shot at," he says.

But the nobility of sacrifice is a difficult thing to calculate, especially when the vast American military mobilizes to fight a war halfway around the world. It requires heavy-lift helicopter and tanker pilots, refueling specialists, pararescue personnel, machine operators and sailors -- all of whom have been killed in and around Afghanistan -- to support the trigger pullers. However they're killed or wounded, the sacrifice is forever. And for those who do survive, recovery is maddeningly slow.

Anxious Moments Pam Hess thought he was dead. Dressing for work -- she is also an Army sergeant, attached to the 310th Military Intelligence Company at Fort Meade -- Matt's wife received the dreaded call from a sergeant at the Casualty Affairs Office. He said Matt had stepped on a land mine. Pam asked if he was alive. The sergeant said he didn't know.

"I had a hard time calming down," Pam recalls. "It was awful, absolutely awful." Her emotions raced from panic to hysteria and back.

She called her close friend Rose Dolan, whose husband serves in Matt's unit. Then, tears streaming down her face, she paced through the apartment, frantically searching for a phone roster for the 744th. Dolan called back a few minutes later; she had reached local officers from the unit who told her that Matt was alive and that his injuries weren't life-threatening.

Pam was on a military flight that afternoon to Germany, arriving at Ramstein Air Force Base, south of Frankfurt, early on Dec. 20, nearly a day before her husband reached the military hospital at Landstuhl. She managed to talk to him for the first time by telephone from Germany while he was still in Turkey.

"I was just so relieved to hear his voice," she says. "I was crying, and he told me to stop, and I said, 'Look, you have no idea, I didn't even know if you were alive.' And he said, 'Hey, babe, you're just going to have to be strong when you see me,' and I said, 'I can't wait to see you.' "

Matt remembers the first time they saw each other that night at Landstuhl, after the doctors had checked him out and an Army chaplain had spent a few minutes at his side.

The two had met in Germany in the fall of 1999 while both were stationed at Grafenwoehr. Pam, now 28, was a policeman's daughter from Somersworth, N.H. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, she decided to join the Army but spurned entreaties to become an officer to enter the field that most interested her, intelligence.

Matt, 27, tall and lanky with short brown hair and a quiet, easy manner, joined the Army Reserve and went to basic training between his junior and senior years at Eastern Senior High School in Berlin, outside Philadelphia. He did well in subjects that interested him, like English, creative writing and art, but basically coasted through the rest.

He spent a year at Camden County Community College, thinking he wanted to be a state trooper, like one of his father's cousins. But a summer of pumping gas at a Texaco station after his freshman year convinced him that he needed to apply himself. He signed up for active duty in the Army, thinking that was a good way to start. He retook the Army's aptitude test and scored well, qualifying for a position in an area that demanded some brainpower: explosive ordnance disposal.

Defusing bombs sounded more exciting than working with hovercraft, the other specialty he was offered. "Just to be able to blow things up was kind of the first appeal," he says.

Now it had landed him here, in an examining room at Landstuhl, with his left leg gone below the knee, his right leg peppered with shrapnel, the tendons and ligaments in his left hand damaged and the tip of his index finger missing.

Back at Bagram, Staff Sgt. Jason Dolan, 26, Hess's best friend in the 744th, remembers running with his buddy at a base in Oman where they spent the month of October waiting to be sent into Afghanistan. As bomb disposal experts, Dolan said, they had talked about stepping on mines. And both agreed they'd rather die than be maimed.

But a funny thing happened to Hess after the land mine exploded and everyone around him broke down, including his father and his best friend. He decided he'd rather live.

"I didn't know how some people react to an injury like that," Pam says. "I'm married to him, but I thought, 'What if he is so distraught over this thing?' But he wasn't. He didn't blame anybody."

Voice of Experience It helped that Pam was there. And it helped when an Air Force officer whom Matt and Pam had never seen before walked into Matt's hospital room at Landstuhl, sat down in a chair and unstrapped his artificial leg.

"You're in a fraternity that literally takes an arm or a leg to join," the officer said. "It's not the end of the world."

The officer, who asked in a recent interview that his name not be used, lost his leg in a helicopter crash during a Special Operations mission with the Ecuadoran military and stayed on active duty. Now stationed in Naples, the officer took a couple of days' leave and hopped on a flight to Landstuhl to see Hess and a Marine corporal, Chris Chandler, who had lost a leg when he stepped on a mine at the Kandahar airport two days before Hess's accident at Bagram.

The officer told them how he competes in sprint triathlons, plays basketball and coaches his kids' soccer teams. And he gave Hess and Chandler a piece of advice: Ask for the surgical procedure known as Ertl, in which bone is grafted between the remains of the two leg bones below the knee, the tibia and the fibula, to increase the amount of weight an amputee can place on a stump once it has been fitted with a prosthesis.

The officer handed Pam some articles about the procedure. Pam remembers how she and her husband felt when the officer arrived: "As soon as we saw him, we said, 'It's going to be okay.' "

Three days before Christmas, Hess, Chandler and an Army Green Beret who'd lost an arm in a friendly-fire incident near Kandahar were all in the orthopedic wing at Walter Reed. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, who had lost some of his toes in Vietnam, came on Christmas Eve, leading a parade of dignitaries who visited the hospital throughout the holidays.

On the day after Christmas, surgeons performed the last major operation on Hess's left leg, stabilizing the damaged muscles, bones and tendons. Pam remembers asking whether they would be performing the Ertl procedure -- named after the Eastern European doctor who developed the technique -- and being told, "We do the same thing as the Ertl, but we call it something different."

In fact, although Hess's leg was stabilized, there was no bone graft performed. It's the one aspect of Hess's care that upsets him, particularly when he compares his treatment with that received by Chandler. Chandler's father, a retired Defense Department employee, insisted that his 21-year-old son receive the Ertl procedure, and because he was a Marine, the Army doctors at Walter Reed allowed a Navy surgeon from Norfolk to come in and perform the bone graft.

"As much as I would like to make a stink about it, I wouldn't want to go about it the wrong way," Hess says. "I would like to use this opportunity to possibly make it a more routine option to amputees, but I'm not sure how to go about it and still remain diplomatic, for lack of better terms."

Col. Michael A. Dunn, a doctor and the commander of the Walter Reed Health Care System, acknowledged Hess's concern but said there are no medical studies to document the claim that amputees can lead more active lives with the Ertl procedure than without it.

Back in Action When Hess received his Purple Heart at Walter Reed in January, he happened to show his group commander an ordnance identification system he had created at Bagram by scanning pictures and data about old Soviet explosives into his Palm Pilot. She immediately pushed his innovation into the Army's ordnance research and development channels. And Hess, while still technically on medical leave, finds himself working as a consultant at a joint services technical facility in Stumpneck, Md., with Pentagon scientists and technicians developing a hand-held ordnance identification system for rapid deployment in the field.

It is exciting work that helps compensate for his physical recovery, which has been painfully slow. Most mornings, Pam drives him to Walter Reed for therapy on his leg and his left hand.

Hess was so eager to walk again using a prosthesis that the healing skin on his stump opened up and required further surgery. The doctors ordered him to stay off the prosthesis for weeks, and he's still waiting to be fitted for a new one.

"I say he was motivated -- almost too motivated," says Army Lt. Zack Solomon, a physical therapist who worked with Hess at Walter Reed.

"This guy has truly been an inspiration to everybody in this department," says Solomon Montgomery Jr., another physical therapist who worked with Hess. "I have never seen him personally get down on himself -- and even if he did, there's his wife, she's the equalizer. She would just step right in and say, 'This is what we've got to do.' "

Still walking with crutches, Hess found himself late last month at a dinner at Fort Myer honoring retired soldiers from the Army's 7th Corps, seated between Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of the war in Afghanistan, and the retired 7th Corps commander, Gen. Frederick Franks, himself an amputee because of a mine in Vietnam.

Hardly overwhelmed, Hess discussed conditions at Bagram with the generals and described equipment needed by members of his unit, who are still out among the bombs.

"The soldiers that are still there have to continue to sacrifice their time every day and take the risks I took day by day, as well," Hess says. "It would be a shame to say that I made the biggest -- I simply had a streak of bad luck that day. As lousy as it is to lose a limb, I still feel guilty that I am back here while the guys from my unit -- and all other soldiers -- are still living under worse conditions than the POWs in Cuba, while I am back home in the world of comforts."

When Pam hears her husband focus on the future and on others, she knows the worst of their ordeal is past. "It gets better," she says, "every day."

Tony Meade AKA Tbone
SNJ. State Coordinator
tbonewwrnj@aol. com

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