'Dozens And Dozens' Wounded In Vermont Guard's Brigade During Deployment

11/11/10 7:34AM By Steve Zind
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(Host)  In the past year, Vermonters have mourned the deaths of three guard soldiers killed in Afghanistan:  Ryan Grady, Tristan Southworth and Steven Deluzio.

But a significant number of guard soldiers have also been injured during the current Afghan deployment. 

VPR's Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Late last May in Afghanistan's Paktya Province the armored vehicle carrying 30 year old Vermont Army Guard Sergeant Scott McCullough was hit by an insurgent rocket.  

McCullough was badly injured.  He survived thanks to quick action by fellow soldiers and his unit's medic.

(Smoren) "They administered procedures to him right after the incident that literally saved his life."

(Zind) Bonnie Smoren of Montpelier is McCullough's mother.  Smoren says her son was airlifted to Germany for a week of intensive care, then flown to the U.S. 

Stories like this have unfolded repeatedly during this year's Vermont Guard deployment, but little has been said about the significant number of wounded among the 3,000 soldier brigade, which includes nearly 1,500 Vermont Guard members.  It's not known how many of the injured are Vermonters.  Adjutant General Michael Dubie.

(Dubie) "I would just say that we've had dozens and dozens wounded.   But I won't get into any more detail than that. In years past we would announce people being wounded but we don't do that anymore."

(Zind)  Under medical privacy rules, information about injured soldiers is no longer released.  So, the public is largely unaware of this aspect of the deployment in Afghanistan. Some less serious injuries haven't prevented a soldier from returning to duty. Others, like Scott McCullough's have required soldiers to be airlifted from Afghanistan.

(Dubie) "We've had a lot of people that have been wounded. You go to Bethesda, Walter Reed, Landstuhl multiple times like I have in the last six months, its tough."

(Zind) The injured Vermont soldiers are undergoing treatment in a number of facilities - all are some distance from Vermont. Bonnie Smoren says she was impressed with how much guard support there was to make sure she could spend time with her son when he was being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

(Smoren) "They took care of all the logistical arrangements for us, the flights. I was in the air maybe two hours after we heard he was en route to Walter Reed, it was that fast. When I got there I was met at the airport and taken to the hospital.  I had a hotel room.  And I had a personal liaison who is the wife of one of the officers in my son's unit who just walked me through the process, told me what to expect, called to make sure we had everything we need.  So I felt I had a great deal of support."

(Zind) Adjutant General Dubie says a pilot program spearheaded by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy will allow soldiers who need transitional care before they can come home to receive treatment at Fort Drum in New York State, which is much closer to Vermont than other military medical facilities.

(Dubie) "Our goal is to get them as close to Vermont as quickly as possible.  If we can get them into the local health care system that's our ultimate goal."

(Zind)  Dubie cautions that as the soldiers begin returning additional health problems will become apparent and more Vermont soldiers will require both medical and psychological care.

As for Scott McCullough, his mother Bonnie says he's back home in Vermont now, looking forward to going back to work as a police officer in Morrisville.

(Smoren) "He's doing great.  We expect a full recovery.  He's looking forward to deer season and to getting back to work and to welcoming the rest of the soldiers home."

(Zind) The first group of Vermont Guard soldiers returned from Afghanistan this week.  Roughly 30 of them arrived Wednesday at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. 

For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.

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