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Wounded warriors return to Craig Joint Theater Hospital

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The entrance to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital emergency room at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, dubbed “Warrior’s Way,” has seen more than 14,000 injured service members carried by litter under its flag. On Nov. 16, 2016, six of those warriors returned, walking on their own.


The first of this group of wounded warriors to come through the hospital was Master Sgt. Neal Benson, in October 2007. It was the first leg of a long journey to recovery. His return here was a continuation of that journey and his jokes throughout the tour demonstrated that this is a step in the right direction for healing the wounds that can’t be seen.


Operation Proper Exit, a program returning battle-wounded service members to theater, recently brought six members through Bagram, including Medal of Honor recipient Master Sgt. Leroy Petry.


Those currently deployed to Bagram, particularly the medical staff at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, counted it an honor to see the recovering members return.


“It’s hard to patch people together and then put them on the back of an airplane and not really know what’s going to happen and if they’re going to get better,” said Tech. Sgt. Mandy Mueller, 455th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron paramedic. “To see these guys come back and be able to see that they got better… that’s encouragement.”


The medical staff printed out each individual’s medical records from their time there. Some had been through the hospital recently enough that they were able to see the beds they had occupied during their treatment.


“It was more emotional than I thought it would be, hearing the doctors talking about how they remembered me going through there.” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Raina Hockenberry, one of the Operation Proper Exit wounded warriors. Hockenberry was shot five times during a 2014 attack in Kabul. 


“Every military member – we have a bond because you know what military life is like,” Hockenberry explained. “When you go through an injury, especially a combat injury and you lived through that recovery, you know what it’s like, you lived it. You can joke about things that other people might not find very funny, you just understand each other.”