“I Could Still Feel My Heart Beating, So I Knew I Wasn’t Dead” Green Beret & Silver Star Recipient, LTC Ken Dwyer, U.S. Army.

Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth M. Dwyer was destined for a military career.  Born in Tampa, Florida, at MacDill Air Force Base, but “‘raised everywhere.”  His Dad was career Air Force, with successive moves around America, largely in the Southeast, while young Ken went through the usual phases of growing-up .  Between his Dad’s lengthy service, and his Granddad’s career in the Navy, there was little question that he would eventually enter the “family business,” military service, of course, specifically the United States Army, “to round out the family (branches),” he said.

When it became time for college, with an Army ROTC Scholarship in hand, Ken chose Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, for four basic reasons: (1) Furman had an Army ROTC program; (2) his sister was already enrolled there; (3) it was close enough to his parents, now back in Florida, to drive home during breaks; and, significantly, (4) it was very close to his Grandparent’s home, where he could escape for a home-cooked meal and do laundry on the week-ends!

While still an ROTC cadet, he was afforded the selective opportunity to attend and complete both the Airborne and the Air Assault courses, during junior-year summer training at Fort Benning, putting him two important qualifications ahead of many of his fellow cadets.  Dwyer graduated from Furman in 1998, now commissioned as an Army Infantry Second Lieutenant. Looking back at that first phase in his career, he recalled that he “loved the infantry, absolutely! And of course infantry guys will tell you there are only two jobs in the Army: the infantry, and then everyone else who supports the infantry!”

His first posting was back to Fort Benning for the Infantry Officer Basic Course, followed directly by Ranger School. “It’s expected of Infantry Officers to have the Ranger tab before they get to their first unit,” recalled Dwyer. “It doesn’t always happen, but it’s expected. If you show up at an Infantry unit, as a Lieutenant, without a Ranger tab, it’s frowned upon.”

Ranger training consists of three sites: Fort Benning (initial training), then up to Dahlonega, Georgia (mountain phase), and finally down to Fort Walton Beach, Florida (swamp phase). When asked what he remembered the most about Ranger School, without hesitation, Dwyer said: “Being cold, hungry, and miserable! That’s the surface level stuff you take away from it, and remember. But what you really learn in Ranger School is how to continue to function when you’re cold, wet, tired, and hungry.  More importantly, how to lead others who are cold, wet, tired, and hungry.  How to get the most out of your people, even when they’re at their lowest.”

Ranger school successfully completed, his next step was a wise one, and one that would prove to be of life-long importance.  Second Lieutenant Ken Dwyer married Jennie, his finance, and Furman classmate, in January of 2000, in Greenville, South Carolina.  Said he, while speaking to Georgia Military College cadets many years later: “The most important decision you will ever make in your life is who you’re going to spend the rest of it with.  I’ve made two good decisions in my life and a ton of bad ones!  I picked the perfect woman to marry, which was good decision #1.  And, #2, I joined the United States Army.  Those two decisions set me up for where I am today.” (via unionrecorder.com/Gil Pound).  With Ranger tab proudly affixed, he was then off to his first unit stationing, joining the 101st Airborne Division (“Screaming Eagles”) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a three-year tour there with this legendary fighting unit. Shortly after his arrival, he was  promoted to First Lieutenant.

During his time with the 101st, he did his first seven-month tour in Afghanistan, back at the very beginning of the war. “Most of our unit got to Afghanistan in December of 2001.  We were the first conventional forces to enter the war.  Obviously there were Special Forces guys there on the ground prior to the 101st’s arrival. Which, incidentally, became my big reason for transferring over from Infantry to Special Forces.  The impact they had on the battlefield prior to us even getting there was considerable,” remembered Dwyer.

Following that deployment, once back at Fort Campbell, he sought out the Special Forces recruiter on post, advising him of his desire to transfer from Infantry to become an “SF guy.”  He was told that he had missed the window to submit his application paperwork while he was deployed to Afghanistan!  Meantime, Dwyer, now a newly promoted Captain, received orders to return to Fort Benning to attend the Infantry Captain’s Career Course.  While there, he learned that the Special Forces application window had been re-opened!  Without delay, he submitted his paperwork, to both transfer from Infantry, and for acceptance into the Special Forces Assessment Course.

So, on temporary duty status, it was back to Fort Bragg for a 24-day rigorous assessment of his capability to succeed in the next phase, the Qualification Course, which is the final requirement to obtain the Special Forces tab. As might be expected, given his successful career performance to-date, Captain Dwyer performed very well in the assessment phase, and was “picked up” to attend the SF Qualification Course (Q-Course), also conducted at Fort Bragg, a demanding year+ in duration (longer for medics and certain other specialties), to, hopefully, finally fulfill his ultimate developmental Army goal of becoming an “SF guy.”  But first, he had to return to Fort Benning to await his orders, prior to heading back up to Fort Bragg to begin the Q-Course!

After successfully completing all required elements of the SF Q-Course, the first time through (only about 50% of candidates achieve that distinction), Dwyer was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, allowing him to remain at Fort Bragg.  Told by his battalion commander that he’d be put on the dive team, which at the time, was the only slot available, he was then sent to Key West, Florida, to attend the six-week Combat Dive Qualification Course, where, among other tasks he would find himself physically tied-up, well below the surface. “It was a great time, but maintaining focus under water when you can’t breathe is a challenge !!,” recalled Dwyer.

Capt. Ken Dwyer, Team Leader, ODA-325, 3rd Special Forces Group, Afghanistan 2005.

Upon completion, it was back to Fort Bragg where he became a 3rd Specials Forces Group Detachment Commander of Operational Detachment Alpha 325.  Beginning in 2001-2002, SF life consisted of continuous rotations to Afghanistan. “You would spend six-months at home, then six-months deployed, then repeat the sequence.  That was pretty much the life of team members back in those years,” said Dwyer.

With two combat deployments, by then, behind him, Dwyer’s third Afghan tour began in August, 2006.  After arriving at their designated Fire Base (“Cobra”), his team’s first mission ‘outside the wire’ was to identify key terrain features that Dwyer assessed to be ‘strong points’ and then to establish control measures to protect the base and surrounding area.  “The idea was to basically build ‘white space.’ What you wanted to do in the area, ideally, was to insure that we had freedom of maneuver, as well as the Afghan people and the Afghan government, and the insurgents did not.  Building ‘white space’ requires moving out from where you’re centrally located to establish those ‘strong points’ and security positions, to keep the enemy from coming into those defined areas, whenever our troops return to the Fire Base,” said Dwyer.

But how do you then keep that ‘white space’ secure?  Dwyer responded: “You identify key terrain, but we don’t have the assets to defend it, so you in-place your Afghan counter-parts and forces.  You have Afghan assets.  And it’s not just Afghan National Army assets.  You also have Afghan security forces inside different villages.  So a lot of the job at the time was moving into a village, and working with the Afghan governor, Afghan locals, and Afghan security forces, whether they were police or border guards or whatever, and you work with them to develop a security plan.  Because it’s not just us over there fighting our own war.  It’s us fighting against the insurgents with the cooperation of the Afghan government.”

On this, his third Afghan deployment, and only his third day in- country, at Fire Base Cobra, on just his second movement out and away from the comparative protection of that fire base, this time Dwyer took his combined team in a different direction from the day before.  With him this time, was a force of about 12 U.S. Army soldiers (mostly SF), and around 30 Regular Afghan Army soldiers.  Insertion into this new area would be by means of six Army diesel-powered Humvees (not yet the later up-armored version), transporting the U.S. soldiers, while the Afghan troops would follow, riding exposed in Toyota pick-ups, as was their practice back then.  The group was, again, heading out on a combined combat reconnaissance patrol, to once again try to identify key ‘strong points,’ so that additional protective control measures for the surrounding area could be established.  “Since we had just recently arrived at that Fire Base and we needed to get ‘eyes-on’ the various terrain parcels that we ‘owned,’ ” remembered Dwyer. “This time, we knew there were some enemy fighters said to be in the area.  The intel that we had, estimated perhaps 20-25 Taliban insurgents that we might expect to encounter.  Should that happen, we were confident that we had sufficient assets on hand to take care of that enemy number with no issues.”

However, when Dwyer and his soldiers rolled down into a remote valley, amidst “pretty brutal, mountainous high desert” terrain, they quickly discovered that the insurgent estimate was faulty.  Really, really faulty!  Rather than a manageable number, in the 25 fighters range, the enemy troop-size turned out to be closer to 125!  Worse, that over-sized force was dug-in well above the ‘bizarre’ (small valley center with clustered mud-hut shops along a dirt street), and “we kinda got stuck in a bad ambush late that morning,” he recalled, understated, in a Special Forces leader kind of way!

Regarding enemy presence in an area, “you can pick up some indicators most of the time.  Not all of the time, but most of the time, that you’re gonna have contact soon,” said Dwyer.  “And we did pick some up, but we thought it was a force (based on the advance intel) that we were absolutely gonna to be able to easily overcome.  But once first contact was made, it became pretty obvious that it was going to be a much larger problem than we had anticipated.”

On the outskirts of that small village, their lead Humvee was immediately engaged with RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades), coming at them at a high rate, along with small arms fire, to include several machine guns firing from the enemy’s dug-in positions above the ‘bizarre.’

From the initial burst of that fire-fight, the lead vehicle, a U.S. Humvee, was immobilized.  Captain Dwyer was in the second Humvee in the Allied line-up.  So Dwyer’s team began maneuvering to get to that lead vehicle, which carried several Americans, their condition unknown at that time.  Sadly, several of the Afghan soldiers, riding farther back in the bed of those open trucks, were killed right away in the initial insurgent volley.

“We knew we had to get in there, recover that lead Humvee and get it out of the kill zone. You make an attempt to have a higher volume of fire than the enemy, so you can gain the initiative and then recover that vehicle, “said Dwyer. “But unfortunately, with the level of fire the enemy was pushing out, there was really no way we could gain the advantage.”

At that point, Dwyer and his team maneuvered their vehicles through different sites, firing as they went, seeking positions where they could take at least some cover and engage the enemy.  The vehicles they were in at the time, mostly Humvees, offered some protection against small-arms fire, but not the enemy’s rocket-propelled-grenades (RPG’s), in those yet to be up-armored Humvees.

Now confronted with far greater enemy numbers, what kind of assets did they have to effectively defend themselves and return fire?  “We had turret guns, 50-calibre machine guns, Mark-19’s, and Mark-47’s (with 40-millimeter grenades/chain-fed/mounted atop some of their vehicles).  And all of our vehicles normally had a rear-mounted 240-machine gun, which is what I was manning at the time. So we did have fire-power, to include everyone’s personal weapons,” said Dwyer.

He and his Air Force combat air controller had just gotten into the back of their vehicle (GMV), where the air controller would attempt to make radio contact with any assets flying near-by, in hopes of calling-in immediate air-strike fire power from above against the enemy fighters. Meanwhile, Dwyer was returning fire with that rear-mounted 240-machine gun.

The date was August 19, 2006.  With both men exposed in the rear of their vehicle, with little to duck behind, and with enemy RPG’s coming in all around them, it wasn’t long before the air burst from one of them exploded close to the turret of Dwyer’s Humvee.  There, in that instant, with shrapnel spraying widely, hot pieces of metal slammed into his body, from head to waist, wounding him severely.  Sadly, also hit by the blast, positioned as he was, near Captain Dwyer, his combat air controller took direct shrapnel hits to his head, killing him instantly.  As it turned out, despite the intensity of the battle, while other of our troops were wounded, the team’s air controller was the only American who perished that day.

At that moment, the problem and priority then quickly shifted from the lead vehicle being disabled, to the RPG that had impacted his vehicle and Captain Dwyer himself.  Just prior to the hit,  “I was actually helping the Mark-19 gunner on our vehicle reload, so I had a can of Mark-19 rounds in my left hand, which I was holding up in the air to give to the gunner, who was going to reach down and grab it and load it into the turret gun, when that enemy round (RPG) came in,” remembered Dwyer vividly.  He had been standing behind the turret, in the flat-bed portion of the vehicle, exposed to enemy fire, as he tried valiantly to help the gunner keep up the defensive firing.  The turret gunner was also hit in the face with some shrapnel, as well as suffering a concussion from the force of the close-in blast, although his body was largely protected by armor plating surrounding his turret gun. To add to the gunner’s injuries, as he quickly dismounted from his vehicle turret, he took an Afghan bullet in his arm.

“They always tell you, and you never believe it until it happens to you, if you can see a round coming in, you’re OK.  It’s the one you don’t see that’s gonna get you,” recalled Dwyer.  Preoccupied as he was with trying to help his gunner reload, reaching those vital new rounds up to him, Dwyer’s left arm was fully extended in the air, when “the one he didn’t see,” got him, and in an instant, changed his life forever.

That shrapnel blast “hit me and took my left hand off, along with metal shards in the face, neck, and the right arm.  The flash from the RPG initially blinded me, and the explosion from it deafened me.”  He still well remembers, in the midst of a gun-fight, at that fateful moment of impact, “everything went black and silent.”

And what he recalls that was so strange about that shattering instant, as severely wounded as he was, with the very real possibility of dying from blood lose, right where he fell, there on the rear of that vehicle, as the intense battle raged on around him, unexpectedly, Dwyer never did completely lose consciousness.

He does remember the first thing that went through his mind at that moment.  “Holy crap, I just got shot in the face and I’m dead.  My next thought was anger. I was really pissed off. I just got shot in the face by an Afghan!  Then I thought, I’m a Bible-believing man, so at least I know I’ll be taken care of, I know I’m gonna be OK, fully expecting, at that moment, to float off to Heaven, or whatever happens next,” recalls Dwyer, as his thoughts in those very first seconds continued rapid-fire.

But “floating off to Heaven” didn’t happen.  And Dwyer thought “that’s not good.  But it was at that same moment, that I started to feel, not hear, but feel my heart still beating in my chest.  Oh, so   I’m not dead. I could still feel my heart beating.  Well then, let me get back up and keep fighting.”

At this point, while realizing that he was, indeed, still alive, an assessment that he may have thought took some time, but in reality, took only seconds, his mind now began permitting him to realize the extent of his injuries.  “I could tell that my left eye was gone. But in those moments, I was able to open up my right eye, and could tell I had a ton of blood and stuff on my face.  I couldn’t move my right arm because of the damage from the shrapnel. But I was able to kind of peel my left arm across my body and see that I didn’t have a left hand anymore, that it had been blown off, and I just had two bones sticking out of my wrist, ” remembered Dwyer, still all too vividly.

And it was that sight, that visual of his hand completely gone, and only two wrist bones left sticking out, that would be the memory toughest for him to forget.  “This is the terrible part of the story to me, personally, because it’s seared into my brain. That moment, where I opened up my right eye, and brought my left elbow up in front of my face, and I see those two bones and all the charred skin around the edge of those bones, that visual remained stuck in my brain.  That image happens, still to this day, but thankfully not as often as it did three or four years after the incident.  When I lay down in bed at night, my left arm will pop up in front of my face, and I’ll just stare at my limb, and I can visualize the bones sticking out of my wrist.  And my wife has to reach over and push my arm down. And then it pops back up, and she pushes it down.  Over and over.  You’re just kind of stuck in that moment.  It doesn’t happen now nearly as much as it used to, but it still pops in there every now and then.  It’s just one of those things in your life that is so surreal.  And so life-changing.  Such an emotionally-significant event, that it just sticks. You get past it, but it’s always there,” said Dwyer.

Turning back to the immediacy of the RPG blast and his grievous injuries, Captain Dwyer remembers how fortunate he was to have some incredible fellow Green Berets on the scene, in the midst of that fire-fight, to help him, and, frankly, to save his life.  But now, we’re at the moment, likely but a matter of seconds, when the pain finally set in.

“When it (the trauma) first happens,” he remembered, “it’s just such a shock to the system.  There wasn’t any pain right at the beginning.  But once I realized that I’d been really messed up, that’s when I felt the pain begin.  You hear people talk about your body can only tolerate so much pain, and then you just pass out from it.   That’s total BS, in my opinion.  Honestly, I was begging to pass out from the pain.  It was hideous. It was terrible. It was worse than anything that I could have ever imagined,” he said.

Now, with his very life on the line, what about the immediate danger of bleeding-out from the severed left wrist?  Although gone from the blast, as Dwyer explained it, it seemed, at least initially, to be “seared off.” He remembers being told much later, that although it may bleed some, with the body’s protective mechanisms for a significant dismemberment, the immediate reaction of the blood vessels is to contract and pinch.  But once the vessels begin to relax, the larger, far more dangerous blood flow begins.

Surprisingly, at least immediately, it was not blood loss from his sheared-off left wrist that was the most threatening to his survival.  Unexpectedly, it was his right arm.  “A piece of shrapnel that went into my right armpit that just nicked my brachial artery. When the (Special Forces Team) medic got to me, he told me that my body was kind of pinched over my arm, and when he laid me out to get a good assessment, peeling my body off my right arm, arterial blood squirted out of my armpit, three-feet at a time, quickly covering my medic from head to toe,” said Dwyer.  So it was the right arm that was actually the major bleeder, and one they had to worry about and tend-to first.

The medic, who quickly put a tourniquet on Dwyer’s right arm, had actually been the second person to get to him after the blast.  The first soldier found Dwyer slumped down around the turret.  So he grabbed Dwyer and rolled him over, at about the time Dwyer had opened his right eye and was processing what all had happened to him. “I remember looking at his mouth, as he yelled to other responders: ‘Dead Guy’!!  I didn’t hear it.  I just saw it in his mouth: ‘Dead Guy.’  Then he just rolled me back down on the bed of that vehicle and moved on to the next casualty!   That’s another one that stuck in my brain.  So I remember waiving the bones of my left hand around in the air, unable to talk because of the shrapnel in my face and neck, whispering as loud as I could, ‘I’m still alive. I’m not dead yet.”

Fortunately, his medic did find him, badly wounded, but very much alive. He considers that medic, by the way, to be “an absolute rock star, the best man I’ve ever met in the entire world.” And, also fortunately, his SF team sergeant got to Dwyer at about the same time as the medic. “Both absolutely amazing people, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” he said, “as the team sergeant went to work on my left side, while my medic (also his work-out partner) went to work on my right.”  It’s important to note, at this point, that the intense firefight continued all around them, as these two incredible soldiers did their best to apply emergency treatment, all the while ducking down as low as they could to avoid being hit themselves.

In the midst of a chaotic battlefield situation, Dwyer’s medic didn’t recognize him at first, but when he did, as he shared with Dwyer much later, “he froze-up, he was ‘freaking out,” realizing this was his work-out buddy, his close friend, and not just another American soldier in peril. But my team sergeant remained calm and was able to, with his voice, calm the medic down, so he could do his job.  That senior non-commissioned officer held it together for everybody,” recalled Dwyer. And thankfully so, at this ever so critical time in Captain Dwyer’s attempt to survive.

“So the team sergeant put a tourniquet on over here (left arm to stop the bleeding from hand loss), and to help hold my neck together (also a major shrapnel strike), while the medic was dealing with the arterial bleed from my right armpit,” said Dwyer.  The medic had taken a specially developed battlefield bandage, with compounds within designed to promote blood-clotting, and pushed it hard against the artery wound.  He then put a tourniquet on top of that bandage, hoping that those two methods would combine to stop that pumping right-side blood loss before it could take Dwyer’s life.  While stopping the immediate blood loss problem, a mandatory step, the downside was that it also stopped the blood flow to his right hand, and for an extended period, with potentially catastrophic implications, to be revealed later on.

Once stabilized the best they could in the field, with that explosive firefight still going on all around them, staying as low and as shielded as that precarious situation allowed, carrying him just as quickly as they could, in the first step toward his hoped-for evacuation, Captain Dwyer was placed in the larger bed of one of the partially shielded Afghan Toyota pick-up trucks, carefully lying him down alongside wounded and dead Afghan soldiers.

At that point, as a stark indication that, despite his severe trauma, blood loss, and extreme pain, still well in the midst of a very dangerous and intense combat event, the Captain had somehow retained his sense of humor.  So when the wounded Afghan soldier lying next to him, in the bed of that truck, turned his head and made eye contact, Dwyer remembers whispering to him: “This place is dangerous.”  An observation that could well be the understatement of the entire Afghan conflict!  And adding to the strangeness of that moment, he had actually whispered those words, not in English, but in Farsi, the Afghan language!  Under such strained, and intensely painful circumstances, his bi-lingual clarity of mind was amazing. And in hindsight, as he now remembers and freely admits, given the noise and chaos all around them, the one statement he had somehow managed to whisper, in Farsi, with his neck damaged and his voice gone, was darned funny!

With Dwyer and others lying in the back of a pick-up, members of his combined team were able, at last, to pull back out of the immediate area of fire, managing to maneuver toward relative safety, just behind a slight ridge.  An Army medivac helicopter had been summoned and was able to land far enough from the fight to, hopefully, avoid being hit as well.   Dwyer and the others, both dead and alive, were then transferred to the medivac and flown to the nearest Field Surgical Unit (+/- 30-minute flight).  Along the way, as Dwyer now knows, after reviewing memories of that day much later with his combat medic friend, that medic was offering him encouragement throughout that flight to still more emergency medical treatment.  He told Dwyer: “Hey, you’re gonna be alright.  You’re gonna be home to see the Dolphins get beat by the Steelers in a couple weeks.”  Words meant to lift the spirits of his badly wounded team leader and friend, in hopes that he could hear them.

Recall the tourniquet on Dwyer’s right arm to stop the pulsating arterial blood from stealing his life.  A right arm that had taken extreme shrapnel damage, on top of that to his artery.  And, a right hand that, because of the tourniquet, had been deprived of blood flow for some time now. Dwyer was somehow aware enough of that to be worried about the then-strong possibility of losing that arm, along with everything else he had lost.

Arriving at the Surgical Unit, they carried him off the helicopter on a stretcher. As good fortune would have it, another medic appeared, assigned to that medical facility, and, with amazing luck, he was also one whom Dwyer knew.  That awareness, that relationship, would, several minutes from then, turn out to have a miracle impact on the rest of his life. As Dwyer recalls: “He comes up to me, and grabs me, and says, hey, are you OK?  I don’t remember this, but he told me later, that I looked up at him, and repeated four times (recall Dwyer could only whisper because of all the shrapnel in his neck and face): “My blood type’s A-positive, and don’t let em’ cut off my right arm!” And then they sedated him.

That hospital medic friend scrubbed for Dwyer’s surgery, another stroke of good fortune. And that’s because the female Army doctor who was operating on Dwyer, would end up concluding, recalled the medic: ‘In order to save his life, we’re going to have to cut his right arm off. It’s had no blood flow to it for over an hour. It’s dead anyway and it’s mangled (from considerable shrapnel hits), completely mangled, so we’re going to take it off.’

At that point, the surgeon started coming at the sedated Dwyer with the bone saw (confirmed later by both the surgeon and the medic!).  But his medic friend quickly stood up and said: “No. ma’am, I’m not going to let you do it. I am not going to allow you to cut his right arm off.”  Let that scenario sink in.  NCO medic effectively ‘orders’ the Officer Surgeon not to proceed with her best medical judgment. The surgeon could have easily reprimanded the NCO for being out of line.  But she didn’t.  Instead, she considered that veteran medic’s firm statement, and responded: “Well it’s impossible to save it, but I’ll try.”  A very critical turning point in Captain Dwyer’s future.  And for that, we have two ‘heroes’ to thank:  That stand-up medic who openly disagreed with an officer on behalf of the wishes of his friend, and a compassionate surgeon, who, in that particular instance, was willing to put professional judgment and personal feelings aside, and begin working to repair and hopefully save that arm.

So, she put down the bone saw and went back to his right arm. She sliced it open further, cleaned it out, and began sewing it up.  She told Dwyer, much later, that she began sewing-up muscle to muscle, even though she had no idea if it was the right muscle.  She continued, then, by re-attaching artery to artery, and vein to vein.  She admitted to him in that personal conversation, that she had no idea which was the correct pairing, because his arm was so badly mangled.  It was such a mess, that she had done the best she could to sew stuff back together.

Returning in real-time to that field operating room, she finished with his arm, bandaged it up, and was putting her instruments away.  Then she said to the medic, knowing it was very likely to be impossible, but just for personal curiosity, she was going to check him for a pulse.  She placed her thumb firmly on his right wrist.  A pause.  And, then, miraculously, there it was, a faint pulse!

As Dwyer recalls, it did turn out to be many weeks before the doctors were certain that he would be able to keep his arm.  What an amazing set of circumstances, and eventual victory.  He had already lost his left hand.  Just imagine how his life-struggle would have been further compounded by the loss of his entire right arm.  While he didn’t “float off to Heaven” as he had initially assumed, given his life-draining injuries, slumped helplessly on the back of that Humvee, there can be no question that, with all the right people, in all the right places, God Almighty was with him in those critical moments that day, and many others to follow, as he lay there in that remote combat operating room, now so far away from his team, and from home.

And Dwyer would find out much later, in talking with that talented Army surgeon responsible for not removing his right arm, that while he was still on that operating table, she had also needed to bone-suture his trachea back together.  From the shrapnel strikes to his neck, Dwyer’s trachea had been split into four pieces (little wonder his voice wasn’t working).  Although she was a bona fide ER doctor, she admitted that she had no idea how to put a trachea back together. So she literally “scrubbed out of surgery,” went to the nearest computer, pulled up a data base to research how to do this delicate operation. Do recall that this was Afghanistan, in 2006, when doing searches on-line was far more involved than it would be today.  But, amazingly, she did find the surgical instructions, went back into the operating room, and completed the delicate and critical surgery on Dwyer’s throat.  With his voice in such great shape today, one would never suspect it had taken, by then, a likely-fatigued, but still dedicated and clearly skilled trauma surgeon, with an on-line assist that, technology-wise, now seems like light-years ago, to restore his vocal abilities for a lifetime.

Following all of that emergency surgery, including stabilizing attention to his left wrist, where the hand had once been (cleaning out the severe wound to prevent infection and wrapping it), he was transferred to a special medically-equipped and staffed Air Force aircraft for a flight to the military’s hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, usually the next stop for American service members wounded in Middle East fighting.  Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is operated by the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense, and is the largest United States military hospital outside the continental U.S.

Dwyer was at Landstuhl for about two days.  He has little memory of his stay there, as he was under continuous sedation.  That is except for a few moments when his Battalion Commander, who had been delayed from arriving at Dwyer’s Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, chose to delay a bit longer and detoured to Landstuhl to see him.  Once in Dwyer’s room, the Commander asked that Dwyer be brought out of sedation so he could hear him.

So the medical staff began to bring him slowly back to semi-consciousness.  Dwyer does remember his ‘boss’ telling him he’d done a good job, that he was going home, and that everything’s going to be OK.  He also recalls what happened next.  “I remember trying to get up, and tell him to send me back in.  Let me go back to be with my guys. They (medical staff) had to immediately begin putting me back under, because I started to try to sit up and get out of the bed, with all of these tubes sticking out of my neck!”

The next step for Captain Dwyer, via nearby Ramstein Air Base, was the long flight back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  “That first month I was there is so hazy, because of the amount of drugs I was on.  Constant morphine drip.  In and out of surgery.  It felt like every day they were prepping me (for more surgery).”  On that note, from start to finish, Afghanistan to Landstuhl to Walter Reid, he estimates that he endured at least 50 surgeries(!), addressing his multiple wounds.

Jennie Dwyer had received notification about her husband’s severe injuries in combat, and when he would be transported to Walter Reed, so her Dad met up with her at Fort Bragg, and together they drove to the medical center in Maryland.  When she saw her husband for the first time, so badly injured and hooked up to about every medical device possible, it was, no doubt, an incredible shock, despite having been pre-briefed by his doctors. But for the Captain, her presence provided a much-needed emotional lift.

Capt. Ken Dwyer, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, September, 2006.

Thinking back, again, to that early time at Walter Reed, “all I had that first month were just visions in my head, and hallucinations, honestly.  Crazy things, like I’d go from being in a firefight one minute, and the next minute, I’m lying back in a hospital bed in Walter Reed.  All of those noises and sounds that would go on in the hospital, to me, sounded like bullets flying past my head.  I’d be lying there in bed, with these constant hallucinations of being back there in the firefight, but not being able to move, not being able to respond, and knowing that I was really messed up,” he recalled.

Soon after his arrival, among the damage they focused on, of course, was his left eye.  His doctors weren’t sure they could save it.   “Shrapnel went through my eye and deflated it, but it wasn’t gone, it was still in there.  So they (doctors) would cover up my right eye, and then flash light into my left eye, and tell me to nod my head (if I could see it).  That’s all I could do.  I couldn’t talk.  I had a trach, a feeding tube, and everything.  I couldn’t see the light, but I wanted to believe I could see it, so I’d nod my head a couple of times.  The doctors thought it was amazing, since even though the eye was completely deflated, I could still see out of it.  But I was just faking it. Eventually, the Doc came in one day and said the same thing, nod your head if you see the light.  So I started nodding my head.  Then he told me that he hadn’t shined the light yet!  That’s when they went in and pulled the left eye out,” Dwyer remembered.

With all the shrapnel damage to his neck and face, he couldn’t eat, because of the holes that went from his trachea to his esophagus.  Until they healed, he had to be on a feeding tube, an ordeal that lasting a full month. But in his memory, that wasn’t the worst part.  For Dwyer, a seasoned Special Forces warrior, the very worst was being so incapacitated, that he couldn’t even clean up after relieving himself, the most private of moments.  “I had a bed pan and I’d s**t on myself, and I couldn’t do anything.  I’d just lay there. And you had to have someone come over.  To be trapped in your own brain, while conscious and coherent enough to realize that you’re that bad off.  It was awful.  It was hideous. And then to not know if I’m ever gonna get better.  I think I am, but who knows,” he said.

Early on, little triumphs really mattered, as he worked as hard as he could each day to recover.  “I looked over at my left hand, it was gone, but I knew that.  I couldn’t see my face, but I knew something was messed up with it.  In my head, I pictured that I had no face left. Then I looked up at my right arm and it was suspended in the air and I could see my hand.

Capt. Ken Dwyer, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, two weeks later in September, 2006.

So I said to myself, OK, move your hand.  I tried as hard as I could and I couldn’t move it.  I thought, oh, that’s awful, I can’t even move a finger.  So I said to myself, now really focus and just move one finger.  I tried really hard, and then I got a little twitch out of my finger.  And I was just thrilled!!  Like, over the moon.  Because I was, like, yeah, I got a little finger wiggle,” remembered Dwyer.  Realize what the start of a vital break-through this was for him, since he would, hopefully, be depending fully on the use of his right hand, for the rest of his life.

And the break-through continued.  “Trapped in my own brain and lying there in my bed, I remember my goal in life was to try to wiggle my finger even more.  And I did.  Eventually I got to where I could wiggle it much better.  And then all of a sudden, I thought, well, why not try to touch my thumb.  And so I would just lay there in the bed and touch my thumb, over and over.   And then, eventually, I could wiggle two fingers.  And I’d go back and forth (between the two).  Understand, this took weeks!  I’d just lay in the bed and touch my fingers.  And, eventually, I could touch three fingers.  It took me probably three-months before I could touch my pinky (finger).  I’ve got a ton of nerve damage, and three of my fingers are still, today, like pins and needles.  I can’t really feel them.  They don’t feel normal,” he said.  And all of this repetitive finger movement, so important to him then, became proof to his doctors that his right arm could be saved!

Walter Reed was a challenging experience, recalls Dwyer, but he also remembers the positive influences while there, to include the doctors and nurses, and, of course, his ever-supportive family.  One of his most memorable, positive, events involved his young son.

It was perhaps six-weeks after he was injured, and the first time that his 3-year-old son, Tim, had been brought in to see him. They had told his son ahead of time that his Daddy had gotten hurt.  That he had lost his hand, and an eye, and that he had a lot of “boo-boo’s” on his face, his neck, and his right arm.  They explained it all the best they could to a 3-year-old. So wife Jennie and hospital staff brought him in and put him on the bed alongside his Dad.

Capt. Ken Dwyer with his son, Tim, at Walter Reed, 2006.

“They had pulled the trach out, so I could talk a little, not much, just whisper some. So my son looks at me and says, ‘Daddy, where are your teeth?’  They didn’t tell him that my teeth got blown out, too.  So I told him that I’d be getting new teeth.  Out of the mouth of a 3-year-old comes: ‘Are they going to be white teeth?’  I told him they’d be tooth colored teeth!  That was the only question he had. Then he leans over to the extensive stitching on my right arm, and he gives me a big kiss on the stitch-line.  Then he looks up at me and says: ‘Boo-boo all better now, Daddy. Let’s play baseball!’“

“So when you think about perspective in life, and you’re going through something like that (his severe wounds), all of a sudden, you’re reminded of what really matters.  It was absolutely a life-changing moment.  And so to me, the only thing that mattered from then on, was to figure out a way to get better, to overcome the injuries that I had, so I could play again with my boy,” said Dwyer.

Perhaps from the beginning of time, but more likely, much later, Moms have always solved, or at least eased the discomfort of, childhood boo-boo’s, with soothing words and a kiss where it hurts.  Clearly, Dwyer’s son had learned that valuable ‘first-aid’ lesson from his Mother Jennie.  And that one kiss should then be all that was needed to make Dwyer’s substantial boo-boo’s “all better.” While it, of course, did not, regardless, at that moment, his son’s gesture did give him both an emotional and a spiritual lift, and the determination to do all that he could to heal and overcome his residual injuries, so that he could return to the life he had envisioned in healthier times: Support for his family and service to his country.

A bit of combat wounds and recovery irony would occur several years later, involving another SF team member from Fort Bragg, another medic, whom Dwyer knew.  This medic hadn’t flown over to Afghanistan yet, and happened to be at Walter Reed when Dwyer arrived, and was among the first to see him, along with Mrs. Dwyer.  Fast-forward four years, with by-then, Major Dwyer back at Fort Bragg.  His medic friend, who had visited him at the medical center, had been deployed, and while in Afghanistan, he “got shot up.” So now, in role reversal, Dwyer traveled up to Walter Reed, and together with that medic’s wife, visited him at the medical center, and this time, it’s that medic who’s in the bed recuperating!  Strange turn of events, and not particularly a happy time, except that the medic did survive his injuries, as, of course, had Dwyer.

After six-months at Walter Reed, not the two-years originally projected by doctors, it was back to Fort Bragg and Third Special Forces Group for Dwyer (February, 2007), with the idea of resuming his former duties.  But was he really healed enough to actually take it all on again?  “I was not!  But looking back now, I wouldn’t change anything.  I was stubborn!  To be honest, I was actually not really ready to leave the hospital (Walter Reed).  I had convinced everyone there that I was.  But I was still on way too many meds.  And my body wasn’t completely healed, wasn’t completely ready.”

“But I wanted to get back to my guys.  My goal, while at Walter Reed, was always to get back to Bragg by the time my guys flew home from that deployment.  And when they flew into the airfield there, I went out to see them come off the plane.  That was pretty special, because they didn’t think I was going to live.  I didn’t think I was going to live, either!”

While reconnecting with his team members, he learned that their firefight had not concluded in the American-Afghan Army unit’s favor.  “After pulling out casualties and recovering equipment, the team had had to withdraw back to the Fire Base to reconsolidate. As it turned out, that whole deployment had been a bad one.  And I really hated the fact that I wasn’t there with them for all of it,“ recalled Dwyer, with a hint of sadness still, now some thirteen-years later.

In 2007, while back at Fort Bragg, Captain Ken Dwyer was presented with the Silver Star, the United States military’s third highest award for combat valor, in tribute to his actions, during that 2006 ambush and intense firefight, attempting to maneuver his team members away from their vulnerable position, directing others while dangerously exposed and returning fire, against a numerically superior enemy force.

Appropriately, his team medic and his team sergeant, who were the life and death difference for Dwyer that fateful day, were also awarded the Silver Star, for their heroics under fire while providing critical medical assistance to him, as well as to others on the team, during that vulnerable ambush and battlefield fight.

While recovering at Fort Bragg, Captain Dwyer continued to actively work his way back toward full active-duty status, and do so in a way that would prove personally satisfying to him.  Command didn’t expect him to do a whole lot, only to slowly and steadily make his way toward fulfilling the anticipated work load. One of the big hurdles in the recovery process, that would eventually challenge him to the fullest, was his desire to return to jump-status.

That journey began with the necessary permission talk with his battalion commander.  Said Dwyer to the commander: “Hey, sir, when can I start jumping out of airplanes again?,” in classic Dwyer right-to-the-point fashion.  The commander patiently reminded him that, with only one hand, he simply wouldn’t be able to jump again.   Dwyer’s response: “Sure I can, sir. I just gotta figure it out.” His next stop was to the unit’s flight surgeon to see about getting a jump waiver.  With the same reasoning the battalion commander had used, the ‘Doc’ refused to grant him the necessary waiver.

In the face of two denials, Dwyer, now more determined than ever to succeed, linked up with one of his very experienced non-commissioned officers, and the two of them spent the next three-weeks, working to figure out all of the different jump functions and factors, importantly, of course, how he could exit an aircraft safely, and then get to the ground with one good hand and his prosthetic other one. He wanted to figure out all of the contingencies, malfunctions, emergencies, etc. that could happen, and then how to deal with each.  With his procedures and plans finally in place, and fully ready for that jump, he went back to see his battalion commander. Dwyer said to him: “Sir, let me show you all the great stuff I’ve learned.” And after he had effectively and persuasively  demonstrated his techniques and readiness, realizing Dwyer’s firm commitment and all of his devoted preparation, the response of his commander was reassuring reinforcement to his ears. And with an unexpected twist. Said the Lieutenant-Colonel to Captain Dwyer:  “Not only are you going to jump out of a perfectly good airplane today, I’m gonna be right there beside you when you do it!”

And, so, that day, he and his commander both jumped, and successfully.  For Dwyer, that important step was accomplished, less than a year back from the very edge of death.  “That jump was a big deal for me,” he said.  “To be able to go back and show people that, hey, you can do whatever you commit to doing.  As long, as #1, you’re creative enough to figure it out, and committed enough to do it, and, #2, you have that a supportive population around you who’re going to allow you to succeed.” In that instance, all credit for the former went to Dwyer, and all credit for the latter to his wise and trusting battalion commander.  As he later related, that particular command decision, to permit his jump, was a powerful example of leadership, especially so, in the eyes of a young captain.  An example that he would long remember.

Subsequently, whenever he thinks about being a leader in the United States military, he continues to look back on that accomplishment as a lesson. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the leaders in our military would have said, no way.  There’s no reason for you to jump out of airplanes again.  You’re not going to do it.  It’s too risky.  But he (battalion commander) allowed me to be the best version of me.  And sometimes I think as leaders, we get in our people’s way, perhaps keeping them from peak achievement.  So, instead of empowering them to be great, we tend to hold them back. I constantly look at that when I’m in a leadership position.   Allowing soldiers to come up with their own ideas, executing those ideas, and developing themselves to their best potential.  That’s always stuck with me,” said Dwyer.  And a return-to-jump-status footnote:  After he had successfully completed his jump, he went back to the ‘Doc’ and got his waiver!!

Despite his significant, life-altering injuries, as he continued to make progress and to get better, the most important issue on his mind now became keeping up with his peers.  “Honestly, through that period, it was a pretty gigantic challenge to stay competitive, because I was so messed up. If you get behind, in the officer career-track of the United States military, you just don‘t catch up.  There are just so many ‘gates’ that you have to complete.  You have to do this type of job, you have to progress to this assignment, you have to do a broadening assignment, then you have to serve at this level, then at that level.  If you miss one of those ‘gates,’ it’s over. You simply can’t catch up,” said Dwyer.

That being the case, he had to work even harder than others, to stay on that officer-progression track. For about six-months, then, after returning to Fort Bragg from Walter Reed, he worked in the operations section for Third Group.  From there, he was picked-up to be the Third Special Forces Group Headquarters and Headquarters Company Commander.  He held that responsibility for over a year, while he continued to recover.  It was also during that time that he received his promotion to Major (2010).

And, at about that same time, Major Dwyer was afforded the opportunity, along with family, to attend Graduate School, under the Army’s Intermediate-Level Education (ILE) Program, at the Navy’s Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California. There, for the next 18-months, he studied Defense Analysis on the road to a Master’s Degree.

Designed as a bit of a wind-down period from the demanding pace of front-line service, for Dwyer, however, it wasn’t a completely satisfying time.  “It drove me insane to be sitting in class knowing that I had brothers in Third Group who were back in Afghanistan, and my inability to be with them,” he remembered.  It so impacted his ability to concentrate in class that his professors, realizing that he was not totally focused on their lecturers, pulled him aside, early on, to ask if he was alright.  Dwyer’s response, said only to himself: “Look, I’ve got my guys who are right now over fighting a war, and I’m sitting here in a class learning the theory of insurgency.  I could be over there right now actually fighting the insurgency, rather than the theory of it.  I got it.  Let me go fight the war.”

Looking back at that academic sojourn, he admits that he did understand the value of that graduate school learning experience, much more so in the years that followed. “Really what I took away from that experience was becoming a much better critical thinker and problem solver.  Not taking information at face value, but having the discipline and rigor to dig deeply into something to get to the bottom, and the truth of the problem, in order to develop a better solution,” said Dwyer.

And from the perspective of his family, that time away from the ‘fight’ gave him invaluable time to spend with his kids when they were young, along with being able to coach baseball and soccer. Doing the things he loved, with his children and other youngsters.

After his many months of re-energizing time, while away at that Naval school, with Master’s Degree firmly in hand (despite some of his earlier feelings, he did buckle down!), Dwyer returned to Fort Bragg to work as the Chief of Readiness for Special Forces Command.  After a year in that role, he returned to Third Special Forces Group to command a company (2012).  The following year, Dwyer made his fourth trip to Afghanistan.  And once again, he was fortunate to have leaders around him who continued to want him to be the very best he could be.  They weren’t going to hold him back, by assuming since he only had one hand, he couldn’t do certain jobs.

“Now, they did give me a big list of things I had to do,” recalled Dwyer. “In order to go back, you have to accomplish all of these things, so we know you can handle yourself, and that you can lead your men.  And so I did.  It was great, totally fair.  Take a PT test. Got it!  Go to the range, qualify with your individual weapon. Got it!  Skill Level One soldier tasks. No problem.  I just figured out how to do all that was required, with the use of my prosthesis, and moved on!  Recalling the idea that you can do anything you want, as long as you’re creative enough, and committed enough, to make it happen,” he said.

Fourth tour to Afghanistan (2013).  What did he remember most about that experience, back in the war zone, but unlike previous trips, dealing with the residual effects of severe wounds?  “I did get a lot of funny looks from local Afghans, being an American soldier back in country, with only one hand and one eyeball!  But you do need to realize that Afghans are much, much more comfortable seeing people with missing parts, than Americans are.  Recall that it is the most heavily mined country in the world, even after all of the international de-mining efforts (with land mines being found that actually went all the way back to the Russians!).  So they’re used to seeing people running around with missing legs or missing hands or whatever. But what they’re not used to seeing is American soldiers running around Afghanistan with prosthetic arms and fake eyeballs!  Honestly, to me, the reaction among the locals was funny,” remembered Dwyer.

For this deployment, the nature of his job had changed.  He was no longer with a Team out there running missions every day.  He was occupied with command and control responsibilities, far more so than with his previous times in country.  “I did go out on a couple of different small level ops, but nothing like those from past missions,” he remembered.

After this six-month deployment as a company commander, he returned to Fort Bragg.  Next, leaving operational Third Group, he went on to take another company command at Bragg’s Special Warfare Center (SWC), the Special Forces ‘schoolhouse.’  He took command of the company that trains ‘18-Alphas.’  “When a Regular Army soldier wants to become a Special Forces guy, he goes to Selection. After that, he goes to the Q-Course (Qualification).  During the Q-Course, he has a four-month period where he’s trained in his specialty.  So, all SF officers, during the years 2013-2014, who went through the Q-Course, spent four months with me, before they were able to move on to the next phase,” said Dwyer. He instructed these select combat leaders on the planning principles specific to Special Forces missions, along with other pertinent subjects, relying heavily on his own experiences in combat.

Major Dwyer truly enjoyed his time there instructing future Special Forces officers.  “That was a tremendous job.  It was the second best job I’ve had in the Army, second only to being an SF Team Leader.  Having the opportunity to significantly impact those young Captains’ lives and careers on a daily basis,” he said.

As such, he poured heart and soul into his class preparations, and explanations for his students, to include both the experiential highs, and the not-so-highs, of his time in the Army.  “What I brought to the task each day was an effort to make them better than I was.  So I took all the mistakes that I made, not only as a Team Leader, but in the other aspects of my career, and I packaged them up, sat the students down, and talked to them about all the things that Dwyer screwed up, so, hopefully, they would perform better,” he said.  As can readily be seen from his career, marked by exceptional courage, while he may have messed up occasionally, like every other soldier and civilian on earth, his successes, his real-world actions, the performance positives that he was able to impart to those young officers, were far more impactful and lasting, than any classroom lecture or power-point could ever be.

In mid-2014, Dwyer moved up to be the Executive Officer of his SF Group. Then in late 2015, Major Dwyer became Lieutenant-Colonel Dwyer, worthy beyond question of that important promotion to senior officer status.  With that, he went back to Special Forces Command to become the Chief of Plans & Operations (2016-2017).

LTC Ken and Jenny Dwyer with son Tim, and daughter, Julia, in-residence, Hunter Army Airfield, June, 2017.

To bring his career assignment progression up to the present, in the summer of 2017, LTC Dwyer made the move to Savannah, Georgia for a two-year tour as the Garrison Commander for Hunter Army Airfield.  In the collective opinion of his Garrison colleagues, the commanders of the multi-branch military tenant units on Hunter, and the feelings of the many community leaders whom he has touched through his many public speeches and his winning personality, LTC Ken Dwyer has done an exceptional job with his duties and responsibilities, both on post and out in the community where he continues to make friends and impress people every day.  Ken Dwyer has been a truly effective and impressive ambassador for both Hunter Army Airfield and the United States Army. We are collectively sad to see his tour with us come to an end, which it will on June 13, 2019.

LTC Ken Dwyer, Garrison Commander, Hunter Army Airfield, 2017 – 2019.

After some well-deserved family vacation time, LTC Dwyer will be returning to Fort Bragg where he will be assigned to the U.S. Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School as the G-3 (Army designation for the Operations Officer serving on the General Officer’s staff).

Following the career progression, significant combat injuries, and  road to recovery portions of this narrative, the Colonel was asked to share his feelings about some of the basic values and expectations that he sees now, and has experienced, as a senior Army officer through his 20-years to-date of outstanding service to our nation.

How do you define Courage?  “Being able to overcome fear. With the things we do every day in combat, you’re going to be afraid.  But having the ability to get past that fear, and do what’s needed and right, regardless. That, to me, is courage.”

Looking back over your Army career, what do you consider to be the most significant life-lesson that you’ve learned?  “Don’t ever quit, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how hard it seems.  That’s one of the things that I hope my kids, my soldiers, and people who are around me, can also take away from my situation.  That it’s not OK to quit doing what you love, or what is the right, or is the expected thing for you to do, just because it’s hard.”

What do you believe is the most important element of a leader’s character?  “Selflessness.  To be more concerned with the well-being of others than that of yourself.”

Can you provide a memorable example, that you’ve observed, of exceptional character?  “The first two people who come to mind, whenever I would think of anything in that context, would be my medic and my team sergeant.  They’re the two best men that I’ve ever met in my entire life.  That day, when I got hurt, they potentially sacrificed their own lives to save mine. And, wow, there’s no greater gift than that, right?  They put their own lives on the line. And they didn’t just do it that day, they did it every single day.  I keep this picture here (enlarged photo displayed in his Garrison office) because those are my guys.  And the most important things in your (combat) life are those persons on your left and your right. And it’s that brotherhood, where every guy in that picture would’ve given his life for every other guy.  This could also be an example of courage as a component of character.

Do you think leaders are born or made?  “I think it’s a combination of the two. I probably lean toward greater than fifty-percent ‘made.’ The experiences that you go through in your life make you the person that you are.  Every leader has to be given certain qualities, have a certain raw material within him or herself, that can be fashioned into the leader they seek to become.  Something that people don’t like to think about or hear, is when you talk about fashioning character, or talk about creating leaders, it’s the pain and suffering in our lives that creates greatness.  It’s those cold, wet, tired, miserable moments at Ranger School.  It’s the I can’t breathe, but I still have to accomplish my mission, in Dive School.  It’s the people are shooting at me, but I still have to do my job.  Moments in life that may hurt, but that end up making us great people.”

In your view what makes, and keeps, a leader effective?  “He’s got to focus on why he does what he does.  Everything I do in my military career is focused on making sure my soldiers can accomplish their mission.  So you’ve got to have a ‘why’ in your life, and you’ve got to understand your ‘why,’ and you’ve got to commit to it every day.  Whenever I talk to people about leadership, I always come back to the most important thing that a leader can do, or quality that he can have, which is that he must be more concerned with the people he leads, than he is with himself.  He must care more about their success than he is with his own.”

Is there a memorable example, that you’ve observed, of exceptional leadership?   “Absolutely!  My battalion commander, when I got hurt.  He was awesome, he was unique.  He was very passionate about his job.  Now, I’m going to be in the minority within the military when I say this, but we have a whole lot of leaders who don’t understand the value of emotional leadership.  They understand the science of it, they understand numbers and facts, and computing things and cost-benefit-analysis.  They understand all these things very well, much better than I ever will, but I think we have a significant problem with our leaders not understanding the emotional value of leadership.  Through words and actions, making it evident that a leader truly cares for his soldiers.  My battalion commander, back then, understood that in spades.

What have you most valued about your military career?   “What I most value is the brotherhood.  It’s being part of an organization that’s bigger than yourself.  That’s what I value the most about the Army, and what I’m going to miss the most when I walk away someday.  Not being a part of a team any more.

LTC Ken Dwyer, U.S. Army.

What has your military service meant to you, and given back to you?   I will never be able to re-pay the Army for what it’s done for me as a person.  And I think that anybody who comes into the military, and throws their whole heart into it, will absolutely tell you that serving has made them a better person. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that, just because of my situation with my injuries, but I absolutely do believe that I’m a better person than I would have been, had I chosen not to follow this path.

Service in the Army started out as something I wanted to do, as a short-term thing.  But, honestly, once I really got into it, I fell in love with the the team-work, and the comradery that exists, and decided to make it a career. Perhaps the key attraction, the key component, is the common purpose everyone has. I just love being around soldiers, every single part of it, even the bad days with young soldiers when they’re making mistakes and messing stuff up.  It’s still an opportunity to give them a chance to grow and get better.  It’s an unbelievably rewarding job. I can’t imagine a life where I would’ve done something different, and not having the sense of purpose that I have every day with what I do.”

2019 Copyright / William L. Cathcart / Freedoms Forge America.com