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After Surviving Sniperís Bullet, Soldier Looks to Future
American Forces Press Service ^ | Samantha L. Quigley

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.

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Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil and his wife, Tracy, were the guests of honor at American Military Family's "Hoedown for Heroes" tribute event held at the Larimer (Colo.) County Fairgrounds on Aug. 11, 2007. While he was on a second tour in Iraq, Matt was hit by a sniper's bullet, which left him a quadriplegic. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

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His decision had less to do with making sure he was in the thick of things than with a sense of duty and simple human compassion. “(There were) a lot of married folks that didn’t want to leave their families right away,” Matt said. “I was single at the time, so I figured I’d step up and take their place.”

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 he’d 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 sniper’s 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 wasn’t right. “I don’t really have any explanation why I felt that way,” Tracy said. “I don’t even know how long it had been since I’d talked to (Matt), but … I just couldn’t shake this feeling.

“I was crying at work and everybody was asking me if I was OK. I said, ‘I don’t know. I just feel like something’s wrong. I haven’t talked to Matt, and I just feel like something’s 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t talked to me yet,” he said. “I think they were waiting for me to come out of the sedation. That’s when Tracy told me everything.”

Until she arrived at Walter Reed and saw Matt, she hadn’t realized how serious her husband’s 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 they’d 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 stuff’s gone now. We’re 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 you’re just surprised what you’re able to do when you’re just butted right up against it,” she said. “I think that’s 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.

“It’s 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, he’s 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 haven’t had a honeymoon yet because we got married so quickly and I went back to Iraq,” he said.

They’re not sure where that trip will take them, but Tracy said there would definitely be a beach and it will be “extremely handicap accessible.”

There’s one other thing that many newlyweds often dream of that the couple is looking forward to, a first house. But they’ve found the hunt frustrating.

“We’re 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 couple’s 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 Tracy’s 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. “We’re 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 don’t know what to say. I’m 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. We’ve been looking for houses for three or four months.

“Now we don’t have to anymore,” he added. “We’ll be able to build the house of our dreams.”

“With room for kids,” Tracy added, beaming at her husband.

Debbie Quackenbush, American Military Family’s founder, who organized the event, said she couldn’t 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 I’ve 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 “America’s 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.
Related Sites:
America Supports You
Homes for Our Troops
American Military Family

Related Articles:
America Supports You: New Partnership Results in Home for Wounded Soldier

Click photo for screen-resolution image Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil and his wife, Tracy, listen as John Gonsalves(center left), president of Homes for Our Troops, and Gabe Lopez (right), of Pulte Homes, tell the couple that the groups plan to build a home that will accommodate Keil's injuries. The announcement was made during American Military Family's Aug. 11, 2007, "Hoedown for Heroes" in Fort Collins, Colo. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image A soldier salutes as a Marine color guard presents the colors to kick off American Military Family's "Hoedown for Heroes" tribute event Aug. 11, 2007, at the Larimer (Colo.) County Fairgrounds. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie, "America's last fighter ace," addressed the crowd gathered for American Military Family's "Hoedown for Heroes" event at the Larimer (Colo.) County Fairgrounds on Aug. 11, 2007. The former fighter pilot is credited with five kills between May and August 1972. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image Hundreds turned out to honor servicemembers during American Military Family’s “Hoedown for Heroes” tribute event at the Larimer (Colo.) County Fairgrounds on Aug. 11, 2007. The night held one big surprise for Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil, who was severely injured while serving in Iraq, and his wife, Tracy. John Gonsalves, founder of Homes for Our Troops, took the opportunity to announce that his group would like to build the Keil's a home adapted to meet Matt's needs. Photo by David Evans  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil dances with his wife, Tracy, at American Military Family’s “Hoedown for Heroes” tribute event Aug. 11, 2007 at the Larimer (Colo.) County Fairgrounds. She said it was a dance he's owed her since they got married in January. Keil was severely injured in February by a sniper's bullet during his second tour in Iraq. Photo by David Evans  
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Click photo for screen-resolution image The Kory Brunson Band provided live entertainment for American Military Family’s "Hoedown for Heroes" tribute event Aug. 11, 2007, at the Larimer (Colo.) County Fairgrounds. Photo by David Evans  
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TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: bullet; future; iraq; oifveterans; snipers; soldier; wia

1 posted on 08/13/2007 5:30:06 PM PDT by SandRat
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To: StarCMC; Bethbg79; EsmeraldaA; MoJo2001; Kathy in Alaska; Brad's Gramma; laurenmarlowe; ...

Another Blurry Screen Alert


2 posted on 08/13/2007 5:30:38 PM PDT by SandRat (Duty, Honor, Country. What else needs to be said?)
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To: SandRat

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! : )


3 posted on 08/13/2007 5:37:32 PM PDT by TAdams8591 ( Guiliani is a Democrat in Republican drag. Mitt Romney for president in 2008! : ))
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To: SandRat

Thanks for the posts as always SR!


4 posted on 08/13/2007 5:46:10 PM PDT by AZamericonnie
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To: SandRat

Nothing they do is enough for these Heroes.


5 posted on 08/13/2007 10:10:58 PM PDT by nw_arizona_granny ( Today is a good day for working on some heavy praying. The world needs God to hear them.)
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