Wounded In Combat, U.S. Troops Go Back For A 'Proper Exit' : Parallels For some U.S. troops who left Iraq and Afghanistan by medevac, a return trip to these countries allows them to depart on their own terms.

Wounded In Combat, U.S. Troops Go Back For A 'Proper Exit'

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In Afghanistan, NATO troops are completing the transition from a combat mission to a support mission. And over the weekend in Kabul, a different mission took place. Operation Proper Exit is a program that allows wounded service members who were medivaced out of Afghanistan and Iraq to return to the battlefield and find closure. NPR's Sean Carberry was there.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Troops and civilians from various nations gather here outside the landing zone at the NATO headquarters in Kabul. Moments later, two Black Hawk helicopters swoop in.


CARBERRY: Two Marines and two Army soldiers disembark. They walk past hundreds of cheering service members.


CARBERRY: Dozens assemble in a courtyard.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thank you for your service.

CARBERRY: The veterans are then greeted, hugged and thanked by NATO personnel. There are more than a few moist eyes in the crowd.

STAFF SERGEANT BEN DELLINGER: Hey, guys. Thank you so much for that welcome. My name is Staff Sergeant Dellinger. I did three tours to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.

CARBERRY: In 2007, Ben Dellinger lost his left leg below the knee when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. He was near death when flown out of Iraq.

DELLINGER: No one wants to leave a combat theater in the manner which I did. And so it's good to come back and maybe fill some of that void.

CARBERRY: In addition, he wanted to come back to talk with current service members. He tells them to take advantage of resources available to help them transition back to so-called normal life in the states. It's a message echoed by Marine Captain John Urquhart. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq and suffered severe posttraumatic stress.

CAPTAIN JOHN URQUHART: Not all injuries are visible.

CARBERRY: He sought out a private therapist when he was unable to get help from the VA. He says it's an ongoing battle, but he finished law school and is now working as a trial attorney. He tells the crowd to maintain their bonds and support each other when they get out.

URQUHART: One of my platoons committed suicide several months back, and I never reached out to him. I didn't think I needed to. And, you know, it could have taken just a phone call.

CARBERRY: Urquhart says the most beneficial part of this program for him - telling his story to those still deployed here.

Rick Kell is the executive director of the foundation that sponsors Operation Proper Exit. He says they've run 10 trips to Iraq, and this is the eighth in Afghanistan.

RICK KELL: We've had over a hundred men participate in this program. And I would say that they've each gotten some measure of closure that otherwise they would not have gotten.

CARBERRY: And this time, they get to fly out on their own terms.


CARBERRY: Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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