Update 5/29/13: This story has been corrected to reflect Wright’s rank as Specialist, not Sergeant. Wright misrepresented his rank during the formal event.
Memorial Day was particularly special for an injured Iraqi war veteran from Allegan.
Hundreds huddled close at Oakwood Cemetery Monday morning. Some wept as Amy Wright finally pinned a Purple Heart on her husband’s uniform. He kneeled so his 7-year old daughter Torin could pin on the other one.
The country has been at war for the last decade, but less than one percent of the U.S. population has been on active military duty in that time.
That’s a stark difference from World War II, when just about everyone had a relative serving overseas.
As part of our series on socioeconomic class, we wanted to find out who joins the military these days and why. And we wanted to know whether their service to our country can help them get ahead in life.
Earlier today I posted the stories of two young veterans who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Multiple tours overseas is common in today's military. Re-enlistments helped keep these wars supplied with soldiers over the last ten years.
The problem, as Bernard Rostker of the Rand Corporation put it, "the more you go the more you’re exposed, the more likely you will eventually have some adverse psychological reactions."
Rostker is a former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and a former senior policy advisor on recruitment for the Secretary of Defense.
He said the propensity to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is cumulative. And with soldiers serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're more at risk than a soldier serving a single tour.
PTSD can show up much later in life.
"This is going to be a huge concern for the military," said Rostker.
"Rand did a study, it was a random telephone interview of large numbers of vets using screening techniques for PTSD, and came to the conclusion that there was a huge number of unreported cases. It was controversial with the Department of Defense who looked at the number of people being treated versus those identified with PTSD and noticed lots were going untreated," said Rostker.
Filmmaker Heather Courtney didn't set out to make a war story. "I set out to make a story about rural America," she says. Her new documentary, Where Soldiers Come From, is both war story and small-town homecoming saga; it follows a group of young men who sign up for the National Guard, serve in Afghanistan, and then return home to their families in Michigan's woody Upper Peninsula.
Courtney joins NPR's Scott Simon to discuss the documentary, along with two of the young soldiers featured in the film, Dominic "Dom" Fredianelli and Matt "Bodi" Beaudoin.
For soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the biggest threats has been IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices. When these bombs go off, they can do enormous physical damage. But they can also cause damage to the soldier that often goes undetected.
In the series, Brain Wars, they found that "the military medical system is failing to diagnose brain injuries in troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom receive little or no treatment for lingering health problems."
We're beginning to learn more about the persistent debilitating effects of these brain injuries from studies of football and hockey players and other athletes involved in contact sports. These are unseen injuries. Injuries that, prior to our understanding of them, might have gotten a "shake it off, you just got your bell rung" response from a coach.
As it turns out, the military has been slow to understand the effects of these brain injuries as well.
To get a grasp of how these unseen brain injuries can affect somebody - watch this video of Sgt. Victor Medina who says, "sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier to get my leg blown off - you can see it.":