When Army Corporal Timothy Strobel returned home from active duty, he felt out of place, ineffectual and on edge. Suffering injuries to his brain, leg and back were only the physical damages from life overseas. The emotional wounds ran deeper.
After a year-long stint as a senior medic in Schweinfurt, Germany from 2005 to 2006, Strobel deployed to Iraq. His infantry unit operated out of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon, but relocated to Iraqi Police Barracks following an upsurge of troops.
On March 7, 2007, while in Baghdad, Strobel sustained a gunshot wound to his lower left leg. He patched himself up and was taken to a hospital, where a doctor told him he needed to have his leg amputated. He was transported to Landstuhl, Germany where another doctor supported the decision to remove the limb.
The round had snapped his Achilles, making re-attachment surgery somewhat futile and shortening his tendon.
On his return to the U.S., Strobel, now 29, refused to give up, spending the next two years in physical therapy, twice a day, five days a week.
The Long Island resident currently has 70 percent use of his left leg, for which his right side is forced to compensate. He attends physical therapy three times a week to maintain use of the injured appendage. His gait is slightly off and barely noticeable to others. The limp caused his pelvis to tilt forward, dragging his spine with it. Multiple spinal disks have herniated and bulged as his back is slowly destroyed.
Doctors predict Strobel will eventually rely on a wheelchair.
However, the prophesied diagnosis does not frighten Strobel.
“These are the same people who said I would never walk again,” he said. “So I look forward to proving them wrong again.”
Strobel withstood 13 roadside bombs while overseas, six in the first five days of December, 2006. While he avoided shrapnel, the blasts rattled his brain against the inside of his skull repeatedly, leaving him with cognitive issues. Days when it resonates strongly, Strobel experiences memory loss – rereading a book and being surprised by an ending he has heard before.
The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was inevitable, according to Strobel. As a medic responsible for determining the cause of death of civilians, he experienced more gruesomeness than most. Haunted by memories of the deceased, Strobel flashes back to a mother and her young son, killed during a particularly grisly month.
“[I see] those two poor souls when I close my eyes sometimes,” said Strobel.
At home, the nightmares continued. His injuries left him feeling as if he let his soldiers down.
“After I returned, five of my soldiers died, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I might have been able to save them,” said Strobel. “For a long time, I felt all alone and useless.”
Strobel was sent to West Point’s Warrior Transition Unit, a sector designated specifically for injured soldiers. It was there that he discovered the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization providing support and assistance to members of the armed forces wounded in the field.
The group provided a sense of camaraderie Strobel had not felt since his days in the Army. They took trips and went to events, reacclimating to life back home. Introductions with other injured soldiers erased the loneliness and snapped him out of his depression.
The project helped him get his VA benefits and set up a GI BILL. He is now working toward becoming a Nurse Practitioner.
The Wounded Warrior Project arranged for Strobel to propose to his girlfriend Jenn on Fox News. In full uniform, Strobel knelt down in the middle of Times Square and presented an engagement ring. She said yes.
Strobel remains involved with the program, attending events and weekly therapeutic sessions.
As troops arrive home, Strobel offered advice for those suffering battle wounds.
“Don’t let your injury define you,” said Strobel. “Instead, let it motivate you to do whatever it is you want to do next. Never forget what you went through, but don’t let it dominate your thoughts, even if what you went through was horrible. You are stronger for having gone through it, and it helped make you the person you are today.”
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.