November 23, 2011
Greensburg — Recently, North Decatur Elementary School (NDES) welcomed members of the "wounded warriors" of the United States Third Special Forces group, based out of Fort Bragg N.C.
Wounded warrior liaison, Master Sgt. Bobby Farmer, explained that the wounded warriors program strives to reintegrate wounded soldiers when they return stateside.
"My job," Farmer explained, "is to visit them [wounded special forces soldiers] in the hospital when they return home. I help arrange to get them out into society and interacting with other wounded comrades. A big part of my job is helping them stave off and fight depression - among many other things."
Farmer described his job as one of many assignments he currently performs as a 19-year military and special-forces veteran. He stressed, however, that he considers the job among his most important and most rewarding.
Farmer was accompanied at Friday's presentation by five fellow special forces members; all five are currently home after being wounded in action. Due to the current active status of these soldiers, Farmer's is the only name available for publication.
The elementary-student crowd asked several pointed, insightful questions of the panel during an extended question-and-answer session at the presentation's conclusion.
All six of the panel members have been wounded several times in combat, with all having been injured by the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED). One panel member, in fact, lost both legs to an IED blast.
All of the panel members have been shot at least once, with several having suffered traumatic brain injury. Additionally, the entire panel are recipients of the U.S. military purple heart award.
One panel member described his experience as a special forces member in Afghanistan as extremely rewarding.
"I couldn't be more proud of what I do," he said, adding: "It's very tough to make people understand why we're there [in Afghanistan]. We're basically teachers [to the Afghan people]. We teach them to farm. We give them vaccinations. We try hard to make it clear we're not trying to Americanize them, but only to make their lives better and easier."
Studying over the crowd, another panel member added: "In Afghanistan, little boys your age run around, shoeless, learning to make bombs and kill people - especially Americans. You should all be grateful for the freedoms and conveniences you have. Over there, there are no computers or cell phones, no air conditioning or heat or television. They don't even have electricity or running water."
Farmer went on to describe life on assignment in the special forces. He and the panel addressed issues such as the role of women in U.S. special forces (they play non-operational, non-combat roles), racial and ethnic diversity within the group, and the physical, emotional and psychological demands of being a special-forces member.
"It's quite a commitment," he said. "I calculated once that, in 10 years of active duty, I spent six of them in the field."
The panel agreed that their worst assignment was always the next one.
"They're [assignments] never pleasant," one panel member explained. "It's never fun to get shot at - to run from bullets. It's always awful, too, to realize that someone who deploys with you won't be coming home."
The panel's worst fears included disappointing or failing comrades and facing the family of a fallen brother.
After the presentation, Farmer said he's never appeared before an elementary school with a wounded warrior group.
He and his group were convinced to come to NDES by sixth-grader Owen Kinker.
Kinker's dad, Farmer explained, is doing free taxidermy for the group following a recent wounded warriors whitetail hunting outing.
"Such events," Farmer said, "help get them [wounded soldiers] out of the hospital and help them forget their wounds through camaraderie and friendship."
For young Kinker, his dad's involvement with Farmer's group led to a deep fascination.
"He's a good kid," Farmer said of Kinker. "He asked to take a day off from school to come meet us."
The school, according to Farmer, gave Kinker permission to take a day off, but required him to interview Farmer's group and write a report.
"That convinced us to appear at the school," Farmer said.