Skip to comments.After Surviving Sniperís Bullet, Soldier Looks to Future
Posted on 08/13/2007 5:29:59 PM PDT by SandRat
| FORT COLLINS, Colo., Aug. 13, 2007 Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil volunteered for his first tour in Iraq.
Matt returned home from that first tour unscathed. He met Tracy Wyatt shortly thereafter, and they soon became inseparable.
Matt found himself headed back to Iraq in October 2006, and the couple married Jan. 12, while Matt was home on leave. Suddenly he was that guy hed tried to keep out of the line of fire the first time around.
On Feb. 24, six weeks to the day later, he was setting up a patrol base near Ramadi when a snipers bullet hit him. It entered the right side of his neck before exiting his left shoulder. As it traveled through his body, the bullet severely injured his spinal cord. I knew instantly that I was paralyzed, he said. I was still conscious. I remember everything.
Half a world away, before her husband had even been shot, Tracy had a bizarre feeling something wasnt right. I dont really have any explanation why I felt that way, Tracy said. I dont even know how long it had been since Id talked to (Matt), but I just couldnt shake this feeling.
I was crying at work and everybody was asking me if I was OK. I said, I dont know. I just feel like somethings wrong. I havent talked to Matt, and I just feel like somethings wrong, she said. Obviously it was because he was shot pretty much within an hour of that conversation.
Though Matt knew he was paralyzed, he didnt know the severity of his injuries until he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington D.C., on Feb. 27.
The doctors really hadnt talked to me yet, he said. I think they were waiting for me to come out of the sedation. Thats when Tracy told me everything.
Until she arrived at Walter Reed and saw Matt, she hadnt realized how serious her husbands injuries were, either. When they told me he was injured, they told me he was shot in the shoulder, she said. I packed my bathing suit and some clothes for him.
She and her mother had planned a vacation to Mexico and thought theyd pack Matt up and take him along.
Seeing her husband on a ventilator was just the first shock for Tracy. Soon she was learning to care for her husband, which required, among other things, steeling her stomach against the gross stuff.
All the gross stuffs gone now. Were all over that, she said. The suctioning (of the wound), that was tough. That was really tough. But I wanted to be able to take care of him. I had to do it.
I think youre just surprised what youre able to do when youre just butted right up against it, she said. I think thats when you realize, Oh, I can do this.
I was a lot more comfortable with her doing a lot of it too, instead of a stranger, Matt said.
As the days and weeks passed, Matt made progress. First he was able to move his left arm. Then he could brush his teeth and feed himself.
Its been unbelievable, Tracy said. If you saw a picture of him at Walter Reed, just the look on his face; he just looked sick.
Now, hes off the (ventilator), she said.
The ventilator was removed June 24, a month after he transferred from Walter Reed to Craig Hospital in Denver. The facility deals exclusively with rehabilitation and research for patients with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Three months later, the couple is looking to the future and things like a honeymoon, Matt said. We havent had a honeymoon yet because we got married so quickly and I went back to Iraq, he said.
Theyre not sure where that trip will take them, but Tracy said there would definitely be a beach and it will be extremely handicap accessible.
Theres one other thing that many newlyweds often dream of that the couple is looking forward to, a first house. But theyve found the hunt frustrating.
Were having a hard time finding open floor plans (and) accessibility for a wheelchair, Matt said. This (chair) is pretty big.
Several groups are working together to take this particular worry off the young couples shoulders. While attending a troop-support charity event this weekend, the couple learned they will soon receive a custom-built home in Parker, Colo., near Tracys family.
During the Hoedown for Heroes charitable event Aug. 11, Tracy and Matt were surprised with the happy news. Hoedown for Heroes was put on by a group called American Military Families to raise money for troop-support causes. The event was part of Military Appreciation Day at the Larimer County Fair.
John Gonsalves, president of another troop-support group, Homes for Our Troops, made the announcement. Were here to offer to build you a home, fully accessible, at no cost to you, he said.
Pulte Homes, a national home-building company that recently formed a partnership with Homes for Our Troops, is sponsoring the home.
I dont know what to say. Im speechless, Matt said after sharing a dance with his wife, one she said he had owed her since their wedding. It takes a huge burden off of us. Weve been looking for houses for three or four months.
Now we dont have to anymore, he added. Well be able to build the house of our dreams.
With room for kids, Tracy added, beaming at her husband.
Debbie Quackenbush, American Military Familys founder, who organized the event, said she couldnt think of a more deserving couple.
He needed to know how much we appreciate his sacrifice, she said. He is one of the most heroic men that Ive ever met, and I think that somebody that exemplifies that need to be recognized.
While the Keils were the guests of honor, the event was an evening to say Thank you, Quackenbush said. The dinner featured retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie as the speaker. He is known as Americas last fighter ace; Ritchie has five combat kills to his credit between May and August 1972.
Attendees had the chance to participate in both silent and live auctions. There also was a raffle for prizes, including gift cards and a bicycle. The Kory Brunson Band provided the entertainment to conclude the evening.
Both American Military Family and Homes for Our Troops are supporters of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
America Supports You
Homes for Our Troops
American Military Family
Another Blurry Screen Alert
How wonderful to see people and organizations stepping up to treat our returning, injured troops so well. Prayers and the best of luck to both of them. They surely deserve it! : )
Thanks for the posts as always SR!
Nothing they do is enough for these Heroes.