Sunday, May 8, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan — A British photographer on a foot patrol with Afghan and American soldiers in southern Afghanistan was gravely wounded this week when he stepped on a makeshift bomb, military officials and his family said.
The photographer, Giles Duley, was working on Monday beside soldiers from the First Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, near the village of Sangsar in rural Kandahar Province when he stepped on a pressure plate that detonated a hidden explosive charge, according to the United States military.
Mr. Duley, 39, lost one leg below the knee, the other leg above the knee and his left arm was severed above the elbow, according to his brother, David Duley. A finger on his right hand was fractured, and he had other superficial wounds. He was the second photographer to suffer multiple amputations while covering the military campaign in Kandahar since last fall.
But he did not suffer internal injuries or a head wound, his brother said by telephone, and he has been conscious and lucid while undergoing treatment in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. No one else was wounded in the blast.
A freelancer associated with the Camera Press agency in London, Mr. Duley was formerly a fashion and music photographer, shooting for GQ, Esquire and other magazines. He had in recent years shifted his focus to humanitarian causes.
He has worked in Africa, Asia, Ukraine and elsewhere, documenting suffering and seeking “inspiring stories of the human spirit, stories that would otherwise remain untold in an era of commercialized media and news,” according to a written statement from his family and agency.
One his photographs, of a woman in southern Sudan delivering a stillborn child, was a 2010 prize winner in the Prix de la Photographie Paris.
Mr. Duley had been in Afghanistan less than two weeks when he was wounded, and he was covering military operations for the first time. The statement said that he had traveled to Afghanistan in late January intending “to cover the plight of bomb victims, but an opportunity presented itself to join front-line action with the U.S. Army; an offer that the true photojournalist within him couldn’t resist.”
His brother said he had a clear view of the risks. “He was fully aware of where he was going and what he was getting himself into,” he said.
Sangsar, the village where the Taliban reorganized in the 1990s and began their spread through much of Afghanistan, lies in an impoverished agricultural zone along the Arghandab River basin.
Since last year, the area has been the focus of a large United States-led offensive to subdue the insurgency and develop an Afghan government presence in one of the regions where the Taliban have been strongest.
The American and Afghan patrol was clearing a compound when Mr. Duley stepped on the pressure plate, according to Lt. Col. Michael D. Wirt, an Army doctor at Patrol Base Wilson, an American outpost near Sangsar.
Soldiers applied three tourniquets to his wounds and stabilized him, Colonel Wirt said. He was evacuated by a Black Hawk medevac helicopter and flown to the NATO military hospital at Kandahar Air Field.
David Bowering, a Canadian photographer traveling with the medevac crew, said that Mr. Duley, though in terrible physical condition when the helicopter arrived, “put up a good battle.”
“He was coherent most of the way,” he said. “He answered questions.”
In late October, Joao Silva, a photographer working for The New York Times, stepped on an antipersonnel land mine in another village near the Arghandab River. He lost both legs and suffered other wounds.
This week, after being fitted with prosthetic legs, Mr. Silva took his first steps.
David Duley said that his brother, consistent with his demeanor on the helicopter flight, was “surprising everyone with his resilience and humor.” He was awake on Thursday, and had been talking, joking and flirting with a nurse.
Mr. Duley had planned to start his own quarterly journal, tentatively titled Document, his brother said, and added that Mr. Duley, like Mr. Silva, has already said he will resume his work.
“Giles is a triple amputee, but he is still a photographer,” he said. “He still intends to do what he does. This is not going to stop him.”
Saturday, February 5, 2011
George is an "assist" dog at Bethesda (he worked at Walter Reed when I was there) and came to stay with me recently for a weekend. He is probably the best therapist I know. He is loving, kind, knows to wait for you on stairs, and doesn't snore. He also keeps his toys in a neat pile on his sleeping bag.
I love him more than anything.
I hope to have him come live with me.
This, by the way, is George smiling. He has a permanent look of sadness until you ask him for help. And then he lights up like a Christmas tree. Good doggie.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Even those troops who normally don't think much of the press took me in as one of their own. I have seen more combat than most of them. I have covered wars for longer than most of them have been alive. I have tried my best to tell their stories, and the dangers they face in combat. I got blown up doing my job. And as one General said to me "that makes you as much an American as any of us".
The only positive thing to come out of my recent experience has been the opportunity to live with and love the greatest Americans there are.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I am being fitted for a new Super Brace, developed in San Antonio. Hopefully it will take some of the pressure off my right foot and not only elminate much of my pain but allow me to put off surgery for some time. There are skeptics, including one man who joked, 'why put off the inevitable'? Meaning amputation, which most eventually opt for.
I don't want to lose my other leg. And I think, as fast as they're developing new technologies they may come up with something in the future (ankle replacement).
I was fitted for the new power foot this week. It was a long process...and I walk so slowly I threw off the software. My therapist says I'm driving a Ferrari like a Honda Accord. So I'm not yet getting the full benefit, which is an ankle. I walked ramps and stairs and hills and it did start to kick in. Its noisy, tho. So I won't be coming up behind anyone and yelling 'surprise'!
Unfortunately its also battery-powered and its run out of juice. And we can't get the battery back off the foot...so back to the old Mod3...two steps forward, one step back.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Sucks that I had to get blown to bits to do so. But there you have it.
My chief therapist at WR appropriately helped me move my last "load" from the hospital grounds to my new apartment. Our last item? The wheelchair. A piece of furniture now in my new apartment.
My favorite prosthesist is moving back to New Orleans to private practise where he promises to serve me gumbo.
Monday, January 10, 2011
We'll have to wait until next "fighting season" and even the NEXT "fighting season" to know for sure.
Really? And that means how many more lives and body parts lost?
If our strategy is working, then how the hell do we allow the Taliban and Al Qaeda to enjoy a "next" fighting season? Either we win. Or we don't. Either we crush their balls or we don't. But we don't take a winter hiatus (ala Congress) and agree to meet again in the Spring and see where things are...
I miss the guys even more. My team of amputees (the guys I lived on Ward 57 with) have evacuated Mologne House and they're all doing well. One is teaching at West Point, one is an EOD expert in Pensacola, one has enrolled in college here in DC and is making straight A's despite some recent health setbacks, and one is working on IED research at the Pentagon.
I'm so proud of my boys. They still inspire me. They are rock stars.
But its tough. The days are long, the pain is pounding and I never seem to feel rested. Everything I do requires every ounce of energy I can muster. But hopefully it will get better.
Monday, December 20, 2010
I am stressed about the "move", even though I have no furniture to speak of, no cooking ware, no fork or spoon. I am starting from scratch in every aspect of my life.
I am terrified. And excited. Hopeful. But worried.
And I will miss my squirrels.
Many operations later, Miracle survived. His legs were blasted to bits and have been rebuilt. His face and skull were shattered. He is now legally blind. He's lost hearing completely in one ear and struggles to hear with the other.
Our hero is a true miracle who told me this morning...the war in Afghanistan needs to end. Under the current rules of engagement there is no way they can fight to win.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Its dark and gloomy outside. A veterans group is giving away stuff downstairs, and for once I thought I wouldn't have to fight over a pair of sweatpants but remarkably they ran out of them. I'll know who got them when the hotel staff arrives in their new sweats.
Friday, November 19, 2010
One soldier used his prosthetic leg to offer the kiddies candy on Halloween.
Another Amputee Soldier said he didn't need to dress up: "I AM a Halloween costume"
They finally labeled boxes of boots someone left for us at the hospital with signs that read "single boots only". Someone really thought it would be helpful to donate only single boots? What are we supposed to wear on the other "foot"? Real or fake it still needs a boot!
I went home hunting today. I can't afford anything. And even more frustrating...all of the homes here seem to have basements and attics. Space I'm not ever likely to use. Why climb flights of stairs? It's going to be a painful search. In more ways than one.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Three days. Really.
More amputees have joined us. Dozens have arrived in just the past few weeks at Bethesda and Walter Reed, the hospital. I worry about them. One new quad amputee's girlfriend broke all of the dishes in his California apartment, ripped his uniforms to shreds and the apartment complex management is evicting him. It's not like he can fly out West to fight them as he is missing both arms and both legs. Don't worry, I'm on it...
I have gone through more surgery. I have been advised on whether I will keep my "other" leg (chances, 50-50). I am in line, I hope, for the new "power foot", which by all accounts is awesome. Tested in Texas, rumor has it the amputees wouldn't give them back at the end of the trials.
I am learning to drive again. Well, my right foot is. My teacher is concerned about my stops since I'm hesitant to slam on the brakes with my tender foot.
Another journalist has joined us here. I won't give out his private details but a quick Google search should tell you who it is. I get sick to my stomach when I think about what's ahead for him. But I am thankful he's alive.
I have celebrated another birthday.
I am looking for a new home.
I feed the birds and squirrels every day. They recognize me and surround my wheelchair when I roll out back. I'm a f*cking Disney movie.
I love the Fall but missed most of the color because I was laid up after surgery. Luckily I had company.
I go back and forth between looking forward to my new life and worrying obsessively about it.
Veterans Day has come and gone. I am grateful I got stories on the radio about the number of wounded coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
My nephew has just graduated from Ranger school. I worry sick about what is coming for him but am so very proud.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I was so nervous before leaving I thought I would vomit but I made it down to New Orleans for the 5th anniversary of Katrina. We spent all afternoon in Plaquemines Parish talking to people and it reminded me why I have always loved this place. You walk with a cane? So what. The people here are so unique no one notices something like that.
They've also reminded me that everyone has challenges. But being a part of New Orleans is like belonging to a special club of misfits. Funny, wacky, fatalistic but life-loving misfits.
We have a poll today on whether New Orleans will ever recover from Katrina. It will recover like I will. Missing some parts, mourning that loss, but moving on...with a tad more character.
Monday, August 23, 2010
And while "alive day" sounds so much more like a celebration I don't want to celebrate. Why would I want to make happy on the day a bomb impaled the soldier next to me and changed my life forever?
But as much as I would like to forget the whole thing my body is intent on reminding me. Last night I had the first nightmare I can remember since the bombing a year ago. I dreamed I watched as a humvee got hit by a rocket or RPG. There was a loud, odd sound. It suddenly occured to me that I recognized that sound. I'd heard it somewhere. That's when I shot out of bed with my heart pounding.
It was the sound that MY bomb made as it turned out ASV to mush. While I don't remember my bombing I know my body does.
My therapists and docs also say my body will likely mark the anniversary, whether I want it to or not. They are a little worried I suspect. So am I.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Now because I was blown up in Afghanistan I've missed the Big Story. I think that will make it hard to ever have any closure on Iraq.
The guys here, and some of them were injured in Iraq, have barely mentioned the developments.
I was having brain tests as the Strykers were rolling across the border in to Kuwait. And oddly had a headache all day.
Wish I'd been there instead of here...
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked this week about the number of useless studies being conducted and how they're costing taxpayers millions. And lo and behold, I saw this poster (above) at the hospital yesterday. Why do servicemembers get tattoos? Really? How much is this study costing?
I, on the other hand, am taking part in another USEFUL study that is looking into why some of us with perfect vision are having the blurries. They think its the trauma from bomb blasts shaking loose connections between our brains and our eyes. Friday I go in for extensive testing.
Monday, August 9, 2010
It would have gone off without hitch had it not been for my own clumsiness. You have to shave before they do the laser so they handed me a little specimen jar with water and a safety razor. While I worked on one side of my stump, a sweet male resident carefully shaved the other. He did beautifully. I, on the other hand, cut a hole on the top of my leg and then managed to open an incision. With a safety razor! As blood covered every surface of the room they went ahead with the laser anyway. Thankfully.
Hopefully it works.
Friday, August 6, 2010
You can bomb me to kingdom come but I still don't like to own too many things. They tie you down and all...and I think I just may fly again.
"Kandahar was interesting. The way I would describe it is the Wild West, a frontier city. Drug runners, war lords and insurgents really run the place and the 'sheriff' ( or governor) has no power, a figure head that hides in his protected office surrounded by Western security.
The Afghan forces are shockingly bad, a trainer said off the cuff, he'd prefer to train the Taliban because they have better discipline and determination than the Afghan forces. It is really very depressing. I have no faith at all that the Afghan forces will be able to hold the country. When the West pulls out Afghanistan will fall, there is simply no institutions that can stand-up on their own.
I'm sorry to depress you but that is my honest assessment. For all the treasure, lives and sacrifices America has given to Afghanistan, there seems very little to show for it. Kabul still has mud roads."
I personally like to lock out the world when I'm in my room. But I think a lot of the soldiers and Marines here feel safer with their doors open. Its kind of like when you're a kid and ask Mom to leave the door cracked just in case the monster under the bed (or in the closet) is planning to attack you.