Wednesday, August 04, 2010

'Real Warrior' Loses Leg, Gains New Perspective

Retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido poses with his wife, Karen, and daughters, Kaitlin and Kinsley. Courtesy photo 

By Elaine Wilson of American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2010 - With a combat escort at front and rear, Army Maj. Ed Pulido drove a sport utility vehicle into an area of Iraq known as "IED Alley" on his way to Kirkuk from a base northwest of Baghdad.
Pulido chatted with the colonel next to him, mostly about going home again, all the while unaware of the roadside bomb lodged in the asphalt directly ahead.
The soldiers in front saw it, but it was too late to warn Pulido. The bomb detonated, and smoke, glass, noise and dust filled the air. The air bag had deployed, and Pulido shoved it to one side. That's when he saw the damage the fragments had inflicted on his leg.
It's been six years since that day, and more than any other moment, that one still sticks in his mind.
"I've had dreams about it all the time," Pulido said. "The night sweats and terrors -- it was that moment right there when I put the air bag aside and saw the blood."
That day launched Pulido on a life-changing physical and psychological journey that is documented in a new "Real Warriors" profile. The Real Warriors campaign is sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, and it features stories of servicemembers who sought psychological treatment and continued successful military and civilian careers.
Pulido's leg was broken in three places and partially on fire, but he felt no pain. He wasn't concerned for himself, he said, but for his fellow soldiers and his family. "How will my family live without a father?" he asked himself.
He was flown to Baghdad, then on to 60 days in quarantine in a U.S. hospital's intensive care unit. Due to infections, including two staph infections, Pulido dropped from 195 to 118 pounds in a 40-day span. He underwent more than 18 surgeries in the course of his treatment.
He and his family made the tough decision to amputate.
One night in October, at about midnight, Pulido sat wide awake in his room in San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center in pain after the amputation, his heart racing due to the medications. It was at about the same time two months earlier that he had been injured in Iraq.
"I felt this overwhelming feeling of loss," he said. He worried about how he was going to live without a limb, how he was going to learn to walk again. "I thought, 'Why don't I just pull the plug on this thing?'" he said.
He drifted into sleep and woke up hoping it was all just a dream. "But it wasn't," he said. "It was a dark time."
Pulido struggled with his depression for three days. His wife, Karen, and his mother tried to encourage him to think positively. He leaned on them and on chaplains and other wounded servicemembers who came to visit him and slowly fought his way back.
Unknown to him at the time, his wife, mother and daughter, who was 2 at the time, were visiting other wounded warriors in the hospital, a memory that still stirs emotion in him. "I was in my deathbed, and they were taking time to visit other servicemembers and families," he said. "My little girl still has that gift of giving."
Pulido was medically retired in May 2005 and continues the therapy he started while on active duty, but through the Veterans Affairs Department. And every month he meets up with a group of servicemembers he once served with. It's vital for people to surround themselves with a support group, he said.
Although he's come a long way, he still struggles with night sweats and terrors. He was driving to Fort Hood, Texas, last week, and saw images that reminded him of traveling to Brooke for treatment. He shed a tear, he said, but then he was OK.
"I don't look at it negatively," he said of the experience. "What's important is that you don't do something negative with it."
Pulido also shares his story with servicemembers as a way of helping others, and he is passionate about his work for the Folds of Honor Foundation, which offers scholarships to spouses and children of fallen and wounded servicemembers, as well as information on counseling and benefits.
In his public speaking, Pulido urges wounded warriors to stay active as a way to avoid going into an "inner hole" and shares resources that can help to support them. His message is consistent: "Recovery is possible."
"My goal in life now is to take care of the noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel who sacrificed so much for our freedom," he said. "I won't leave them behind in the field of battle, and that goes for the families as well."
Pulido often refers people to the Real Warriors campaign, which, along with the profiles, offers helping resources. "I would like to encourage all first-line leaders and commanders to use these resources as a way to empower their service men and women and their families to realize that help is available," he said.
Now living in Oklahoma City with his wife and two daughters, Pulido said he often thinks of his father, a decorated military veteran who was the inspiration for his military service, and that he'll never forget the flagpole that sat outside his childhood home.
He recalled that his father would turn on the lawnmower on Saturday mornings at 7:30 a.m. "That meant two things," he said. "First, it was time to mow the grass, and second, it was time to get a cup of coffee and stand outside and look at the flag."
Just the other day, Pulido put a new flagpole up in front of his new house. And when he looks at it, he said, he no longer feels that cavernous feeling of loss.
"I lost my leg on that day, but I don't know if I'd want my life the way it was before," he said. "It opened up a world and life that is different. I may have changed, but what I've changed to is a challenge that can be overcome with support."
Related Sites: Real Warriors Profiles Real Warriors Campaign Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury 

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