Fort Wainwright memorial walk honors soldiers wounded in war

Eric Engman
ERIC ENGMAN / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via Associated Press

FAIRBANKS -- Slowly but steadily, the soldiers came.

Some swung by on crutches while others progressed step by careful step on prosthetic legs. One young man, missing both legs and an arm, gripped an American flag in his remaining hand as he was pushed along in a wheelchair.

With others, the damage was less noticeable, but a closer looked revealed a shiny ridge of scar tissue or a missing eye.

The 35 wounded warriors, accompanied by friends and family members, were participants in a memorial walk at Fort Wainwright on Thursday morning. The walk capped a week of events held to honor the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which recently returned from a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan.

The walkers gathered at Monterey Lakes Memorial Park and made their way down blocked-off streets as more than 4,000 of their fellow Strykers lined the route, cheering and clapping as they passed. The procession ended at Ladd Army Airfield, where an afternoon of fun awaited the Strykers. Two local bands provided entertainment while soldiers were treated to food and participated in sporting events. An awards ceremony Thursday evening ended the festivities.

Many of the wounded seemed remarkably upbeat despite their injuries. Sgt. Stephen Jackel Jr., an outgoing charmer with a winning and ready smile, lost his right leg in August. He used it to put out a fire inside his vehicle after it was blown up.

"Our gunner was pinned, and my dismount was pinned and the rounds were starting to cook off inside the vehicle because of the fire, and using my leg to put it out was the least that I could do. My fear was watching them burn to death and me burn to death. But I'm here, you know,"

The reality of a serious injury can be hard to deal with, Jackel said.

"Rehabilitation is a tough road. What pulls you out of that hole is family. When you go to combat, it's either you think you're going to die or you're going to live; you never really see the in-between.

"The triple amputees, the double amputees and me, a single amputee, it's tough to be around that or watching burn victims going through therapy. It really shows you the appreciation you have for your country and what you're willing to do," Jackel said.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner