Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Home at last, soldier speaks out

From page A1 | November 12, 2012 |


U.S. ARMY SPECIALIST Doug Harris stands in the studio at the Mountain Democrat on Nov. 7. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

“I saw my buddy, Vance, sitting down and I tried to go over to help him,” said Army specialist Doug Harris. “That’s when I realized I’d been hit.”

In May, Harris and his battalion had been going on one of their last missions, to clear out a village in the Helmond Province area of Afghanistan. “I remember everything.We were walking in a line and I was the eighth person in the formation, toward the middle of the line, when I stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device).”

Harris, realizing that one of his legs was gone, tried to apply tourniquets to his wounds but his kit was lying underneath him. His right hand wasn’t working and he couldn’t get to the tourniquet. “I waited  until our two team leaders came to help. Sgt. Green helped keep me calm and they got me onto a bird. My buddy who had shrapnel in his eye was telling the guys helping him to help me and I was telling the guys helping me to help him.”

After that, Harris doesn’t remember much about the helicopter flight except that a flight medic helped him raise his left arm to fist bump his wounded friend.

Harris spent his 22nd birthday in Bethesda Naval Hospital as he underwent surgeries to amputate his left leg, repair his right hand and prepare his missing right leg for eventual prosthetic. He is home in Somerset for a month, walking dexterously on two prosthetic legs in less than four months.

“Serving your country is something everyone should do. It was well worth it, ” said Harris. “I loved everything about it and I still do.” The hardest thing, he said, is not the loss of his legs, it’s missing the guys in his battalion. “Being away from my guys — we were in the unit for two years together — I want to be with them.”

Surprising to him has been the intense support he has received from the community. “I knew El Dorado County supported our military, but I had no idea how big that support was. The fire engines on the overpasses with their lights on, the people who met us at the airport — everything has been more than I expected.”

“People using my story as the reason to bring home the troops bothers me,” said Harris. “We serve for a reason; we knew what we were getting into and we had a job to do. What happened, happened and we all knew it could. The comments about bringing home the troops do more harm than good — they hurt the families of fallen troops.”

After a visit with his battalion who have now returned to Ft. Lewis, Wash. and are expecting him, Harris and his mother, Lisa, will return to Walter Reed Hospital on Nov. 29. “I’m learning the ways to adjust to civilian life,” Harris said. “Big crowds bother me — I’ve never done well with them and camera flashes are like IEDs going off. Eventually, I’ll get a service dog to help with that. It’s just a matter of time before I get better.”

Harris is planning to start taking classes in wildlife biology at Walter Reed with an eye to one day working in the outdoors and having  his own hunting school and duck camp. Internships with the Department of Natural Resources in Virginia are part of the plan. He even has a duck call as his ring tone.

“I met Aaron Brooks who is a championship turkey caller in Pollock Pines when I was 8. I was always shy with people, but I hung around him all day and he told my dad to give him a call when I was old enough to hunt,” said Harris. “He took me turkey hunting on John D’Agostini’s property when I was old enough.” D’Agostini remembered Harris later from that hunting trip and invited him to go again when he came home for R&R leave in March.

In February, Harris goes before the Medical Review Board and the process of investigating his injuries and deciding what disability he is eligible for could take up to a year. “We (soldiers) have a lot to thank the Vietnam vets for,” said Harris. “They had to fight for this, but now the military makes sure you are taken care of before you’re discharged.” Harris has the option to remain in the military if he wishes, although “not on a line unit. It’s hard to know what I will do  because the military hasn’t yet told me what jobs are available to me.”

His first year of college after graduation from Union Mine High School in 2008 was not to his taste, but this time Harris said he will have support from his occupational therapist and he has the opportunity to take courses in the things he really wants to do.

Younger sister Jessica, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, is being deployed to Afghanistan in a month. “She fought to keep her deployment,” said Harris, “and I told her I’m proud of her for wanting to serve. She’ll probably be in the Helmond Province where I was and I told her to be careful, and watch everything.” Jessica joined the military four months after her brother joined.

Harris said a three-star general came to visit the troops and gave them some advice about what to say when people asked what they were doing. “‘Tell them you are providing freedom to people who have never had freedom before,’ and that’s what I was doing,” said Harris.

Lisa Harris has been with her son in Bethesda since he arrived and hopes to stay with him as his caregiver until he is processed out of the medical rehabilitation.”It’s hard being away from my husband, but Doug needs me now.” The hardest thing for her has been watching the struggles Doug has gone through to survive the surgeries, the recovery and the rehabilitation into a new life.”

“I’m doing fine and I thank all the people who have supported me,” said Harris. “The support of our military means a lot to our troops and there are still people over there.”

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.





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