On June 18, 2006, Sgt. Joshua Gutierrez of the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, was on patrol near Osut, Iraq, searching for missing U.S. soldiers.
‘At first, we went into the city and did a peaceful door knock, asking the people there if they’d seen our personnel,’ said 25-year-old Gutierrez in a telephone interview from the Naval Medical Center San Diego.
Around midnight, in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Gutierrez unknowingly drove over a bomb, it exploded, and his Bradley caught fire. ‘I was unconscious about twenty seconds,’ he said. ‘The guys in the cargo area got out. After I came to my senses, I tried getting out too, but my leg was already pretty much amputated. There was so much going on. My gunner pulled me out, and they got me away before the ammo and fuel blew (everything) up.’
Doctors completed the below-the-knee amputation of his right leg, he had a mild traumatic brain injury, and he had three broken bones in his left leg. In succession, he needed medical care in Iraq, Germany, Texas, and San Diego.
He spoke highly of the military support received. Three weeks in, military peers with similar injuries visited to talk over his situation and help him heal the emotional scars. ‘And at first I didn’t want to go to a support group,’ he said. ‘Then I went willingly. It was helpful and allowed me to express how I felt about what I had gone through and to relate to others, because I wasn’t the only one.’
After about three months, he learned to ignore his occasional phantom leg pain. Presently at Naval Medical Center San Diego, Gutierrez said, ‘Up until now I can’t say there has been a hard part. [The military] has been so good to me. There is so much for me to do here and they have so many programs and support groups.’
Remembering the peers helping him initially, Gutierrez signed up to be a peer counselor himself. After taking classes and learning listening skills, to date he has helped a soldier, three marines, and an airman. Also, he can do things now he once thought impossible: ski, surf, hike, and run.
‘You won’t hear none of that (in the news media),’ he said. ‘You only hear the bad things. You won’t hear how we’re taking care of our military.’