By Roger Bjoroy-Karlsen
Edited by: Lauran Timlin

På norsk

“Operation Proper Exit” gives American veterans an opportunity to return to the place where they were injured in Afghanistan. The fact that the soldiers are given the opportunity to go back soon after they were forced to leave is critical. The recognition by their fellow soldiers is a significant boost when they believe that they have failed their comrades and the operation when they were injured in battle.

On April 15, 2015, more than a thousand soldiers and civilian employees welcomed their injured fellow soldiers when two Blackhawk helicopters lifted them over Kabul and dropped them off at Resolute Support’s headquarters in the center of the city. The first to shake their hands was the commander himself, General John F Campbell. The many present stood along the camp streets and clapped them in, and the group of the injured soldiers was clearly moved by this welcome.

This operation is called “Proper Exit” and is run by the American voluntary organization “Troops First Foundation”. They arrange trips for America’s wounded veterans back to the area of operations and the places where they were injured. In all, they have organized ten trips to Iraq and 9 trips to Afghanistan since the organization was founded in 2008. A total of 111 veterans have so far been back to the country where they were injured and these trips have had an enormously positive effect on them. They are received by fellow soldiers and others who support the operations in the country and saluted. It assures them that they did not fail when they were injured, which is a very common occurrence among soldiers. And being able to be back and fly in the C-17 transport plane and a Blackhawk helicopter without being a patient on a stretcher makes a huge impression on them.

The general in charge of the operation “Resolute Support” from 2014 to 2016, General John F Campbell received the injured American soldiers and had a pep talk with them before they entered the stage and told their stories (Photo: Roger Bjoroy-Karlsen)

Marine Corpsman, lance corporal Kyle Carpenter received The Medal Of Honor in 2013, which is the highest military honor that can be awarded in the United States. The 25-year-old is the youngest ever to receive this, which was carried out at a solemn ceremony by President Barack Obama. The machine gunner from Jackson, Mississippi, saved the life of a colleague by using his body as a shield against a hand grenade while serving with a battalion of the 9th Marines in Helmand Province in 2010. He lost an eye and most of his teeth. His right arm and jaw suffered extensive damage and he has undergone many operations. He was also a guest on the “David Letterman Show” where he managed to expose the seasoned presenter with his gripping story.

Marine Corpsman and lance corporal Kyle William Carpenter thanks Resolute Support for the reception and emphasizes the necessity of the recognition of injured soldiers. (Photo: Roger Bjoroy-Karlsen)

Among those honored was another recipient of the Medal of Honor, namely Master Sergeant Leroy Petry who lost his hand when, with heavy gunshot wounds, he tried to throw away a hand grenade that landed between two of his soldiers. It saved their lives, but he has to live with a prosthetic hand replacement for the rest of his life. This happened in 2008 and after recovery, Petry chose to enlist again and remained in service until his retirement in 2014.

Master sergeant Leroy Petry with a prosthesis replacing his right hand. (Photo: Roger Bjoroy-Karlsen)

A little off to the side of the injured veterans also stands a man in his sixties, crying quietly as he listens to the individual veteran telling his story.

Kevin Looney is not injured himself but has had to pay the highest price. His three sons trained as special forces operating at sea, in the air, and on land (Navy SEALs). His son Brendan never came home from Afghanistan. He died in a helicopter crash in 2010, and Kevin is here on behalf of his son. To say something is too much for him, but he is honored by the large crowd that has turned up.

The soldiers stayed a few days in the country before flying home with the feeling of having had a proper end to their service. And recognition from their own. A final proper exit!