KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - After being medically evacuated out of Afghanistan, embarking on the long road to recovery and learning to live life with less than they had before, eight wounded Soldiers and Marines returned to Afghanistan to get a first-hand look at the war's progress and to help bring a sense of closure for the mental wounds left by their injuries.
The group made various stops here as part of Feherty's Troops First Foundation's Operation Proper Exit. This trip, on Dec. 5, was the first of its kind to Afghanistan.
Army Sgt. Jared Lemon of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, heard about the program from a fellow Wounded Warrior who had returned to Iraq through the foundation.
"He told me how it was a release for him and how it helped him out a lot," he said. "I wanted that. I wanted to have that feeling. It's great to come back here and feel like part of a unit again."
The Soldiers and Marines had been deployed to the country at various times between 2008 and 2011. Seven improvised explosive devices and one sniper later, the group collectively lost seven limbs and suffered burns, gunshot wounds and several other serious injuries.
But what keeps them bonded is far beyond the power of the enemy; their love of service and concern for their fellow s and the mission.
Recalling the event that took the life of the Soldier next him as well as his right arm, Lemon said, "The hardest thing for me was waking up not with my guys."
The sentiment was echoed by the rest of the group.
"It's amazing just to put the uniform back on and be in this environment with Soldiers and Marines over here," said retired Army Staff Sgt. Earl Granville of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 1/109th Infantry. "Words can't explain it."
Four of the eight say they plan to continue military service and two others are working toward veteran-related occupations.
The group spoke to Soldiers much like the ones they were deployed with during a town hall gathering at Camp Nathan Smith, situated in the heart of Kandahar City. One Marine commented on how the now-brightly lit city was void of electricity when he was here last and each member of the group commented on their amazement at the progress that has been made across Afghanistan since they left.
"When we were there, we never really worked with the ANA [Afghan National Army] and ANCOP [Afghan National Civil Order Police] that well," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jonathan Carnes of 3/7 Weapons Company.
"As soon as we'd ever get in a fire fight, or an IED blast or anything, they'd leave," Carnes continued. "Now I hear about the progress they've made and how they're taking over most of our battle spaces. They're running the majority of the combat operations and they actually get to lead the fight and take it to the enemy. It's profound, honestly. It's amazing."
"I had no hope for Afghanistan when I left. It means a lot to know it was all for something," Spc. Lyle Yantz, 2/508th Parachute Airborne Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, said of their sacrifices. "It's meaningful."
"I've learned a lot since I've been on this trip," said Lemon. "It really means a lot to me that things have changed. It was really good coming back and finding out what I'd done, what my unit had done, what other Soldiers had done actually made a difference. It's not a hopeless fight."