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Healing Heroes: Treating a generation of wounded warriors

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In the more than ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 5,000 U.S. troops have been killed in action. More than nine times that total have been wounded – and survived.

When our nation’s wounded soldiers return home, Fort Sam Houston’s San Antonio Military Medical Center is there to provide them with the specific care they need.

The 11 months between the time that Raul Campbell stepped foot in Vietnam and the time that he was wounded is a blur for the former machine gunner.

"The only thing I remember is when I went in, when I landed in Vietnam,” Campbell said. “And after that when I got hit."

On that day in Vietnam, Campell was shot three times and suffered a wound from a mortar round.

"'I'm gone,' that's the only thing I thought about,” he said. “I can recall myself going through the clouds and then I said ‘Oh, I'm going to heaven.’”

Even with one of those bullets still lodged in his vertebrae, which once left him unable to walk, he said considers himself among the lucky ones. More than 153,000 soldiers were injured in the war and more than 47,000 were killed.

“Some of the individuals in the same ward I was, the next day the bed was empty,” he said.

But Raul survived to see a day when service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have a 50 percent better chance of surviving than any previous war.

Despite roadside bomb blasts and other hazards, a greater percentage of American soldiers are making it out alive to be treated and recover at Fort Sam Houston's San Antonio Military Medical Center.

Through advancements in technology, many wounded warriors who find their way to the Center for the Intrepid on post are not missing out on life.

"We can't replace what they lost,” John Ferguson said. “We can figure out how the technology is available to us to help them get back to a function level."

Soldiers who suffer burns on the battlefield are also beating the odds.

"One of the primary areas that we've worked on is early excision and grafting to get the patients into the operating room early, excising the skin properly and getting them on the healing process sooner," Lt. Col. Louis Stout said.

And although more troops are surviving wounds that would have otherwise killed them in the past, the research and work continues into devices, knowledge and techniques.

However, where medicine leaves off, faith often fills in.

"A lot of them come and they just really want to talk about actually going through their recovery, how important God has been and or it's a deepening relationship with God,” Chaplain Bryant Casteel said.

With the community and family providing much needed emotional support.

"Whether you like the war or not, or whoever you vote for is of absolute no difference to me,” Judith Markelz said. “We owe these young men and women, and they deserve the very best.”

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