For America’s wounded soldiers the battles continue even though they’re thousands of miles removed from the front.
Sgt. Shaun Tichenor, 32, a graduate of Staples-Motley High School, is currently rehabilitating at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., after stepping on an improvised explosive device last spring in Afghanistan and undergoing a leg amputation in June.
It was the early morning of April 23, at the conclusion of an overnight patrol near Kandahar, when the U.S. Army soldier stepped on an IED, triggering an explosion that shattered his right heel and damaged his ankle. That explosion set into motion a series of medical transfers and procedures. He was helicoptered to Kandahar Air Field Hospital where surgery was done on his leg. He then went to Bagram Air Base and later Landstuhl in West Germany before being transferred to Fort Bragg in North Carolina
At Fort Bragg Tichenor faced a choice. He could have keep his leg and have limited mobility or approve an amputation and with the help of a prosthesis, have a more active life. He and his wife, Mixas Rivera Tichenor, decided in favor of the amputation and on June 3 his foot was amputated about six inches below the knee.
The couple are the parents of three children, Janae, Shaun Jr., and Alejandro.
Tichenor is undergoing physical and occupational therapy after receiving a new prosthesis on July 6.
“I just got my prothesis about a week and half ago and I’m already walking pretty good with it,” he said. “My physical therapist said I’ll be walking pretty good in about a month, without a crutch, and I’ll be running in four or five months.”
From the outset, he told his therapists he was serious about the rehabilitation.
“I don’t want to slack,” he said. “I want to be pushed. I’m not here to waste time. I’m here to get better and get back to my (infantry) unit.”
Whether Tichenor is able achieve his No. 1 goal — to return to his unit — will depend on what turns out to be the “end state” of his rehabilitation. Should his physical condition prevent him from rejoining his unit, Tichenor would like to continue in the Army as an instructor in basic training or as a liaison to Wounded Warriors.
“My main goal is to stay in the infantry,” he said, “get back in the fight.”
He credited his positive attitude to his work ethic and to his family.
“I’ve got three kids that look up to me,” he said.
Virginia Tichenor Staley of Pine River, Tichenor’s mother, who is also an Army veteran, said her son is third generation Army person. His grandfather, RIchard L. Tichenor, also served in the U.S. Army. She said in an email the Wounded Warrior program was helpful when she traveled to the East Coast to visit her son and the Family Assistance Group with the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Organization in the Brainerd area has also offered assistance to her.
Tichenor said his family lived in the Brainerd area during his school years.
While recuperating at Walter Reed, Tichenor said he had the opportunity to meet former talk show host Montel Williams, Jon Stewart of the “Daily Show” and President Barack Obama.
“I shook his hand and talked about football for about five minutes,” he recalled of his meeting witht he president.
His injury, he said, gave him a deeper understanding of the determination of wounded service members and the importance of family.
“It really opened my eyes,” he said of the soldiers. “They have the same attitude I do. I don’t see very many with a bad attitude.
Also, he credited his wife and family for being the backbone to his recovery efforts.
“If I didn’t have my wife and kids, I don’t think it would be going as good,” he said. “My wife kicked me in the butt sometimes.”
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.