Last Updated: 11/07/2012*
|Derek tells how he healed and made the transition to |
Something bad was about to happen. Derek Duplisea could feel it.
There was something suspicious about the way people scattered when his Humvee rolled down the Iraqi street that afternoon. Something odd about the two “policemen” who had appeared as Duplisea’s patrol stopped to investigate.
Duplisea cast a worried look down the street and turned to talk to his troops. Behind him, a woman approached. She had something bulky under her dress.
What happened next would change Duplisea’s life, end his military career and leave him wondering how he would make ends meet in the civilian world. He would fight through crippling pain, and doctors would even have to restart his heart.
This month Raytheon is honoring veterans like Duplisea through a campaign benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project, a group that offers job training and other services to injured service members.
A Routine Patrol
On that fateful day in August 2006, Duplisea was only a week from going home.
As an Army sergeant first class, he was doing a “right seat ride” – giving a tour of the territory near Balad, Iraq to incoming soldiers who would be replacing his unit.
Things started to look ominous as the platoon returned to base. Pedestrians scattered as the patrol moved down the street, a sign that something was afoot.
Worried, Duplisea ordered his troops to stop and check for roadside bombs. Iraqi soldiers began searching cars at random.
The soldiers found two pistols in one of the cars. The men in the car, both of them unusually well dressed, claimed they were Iraqi police officers but had left their IDs at their police station, about a quarter-mile away.
Duplisea told them they could have their guns back if they got their IDs. The men drove off in the direction of the police station. Ten minutes later, they had not returned.
“At the 10-minute mark, I said, `OK, something’s wrong,’” Duplisea said. "My sixth sense started going off: we were about to be attacked." As Duplisea turned to his troops, the suicide bomber walked up behind him.
The bomb exploded five feet from Duplisea, ripping through the right side of his body, shredding his arm and leg and charring his skin. A piece of shrapnel tore through his helmet and lodged in his brain.
“I woke up afterwards and my soldiers were treating me,” Duplisea said. “I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear.”
The troops rushed Duplisea to a trauma center at Balad. Doctors had to revive him and his second-in-command after their hearts stopped while on the operating table.
The attack wounded two other members of Duplisea’s platoon and a soldier from the incoming unit.
Duplisea was sent to a hospital in Bethesda, Md.
One day a backpack filled with socks, underwear and a sweatsuit appeared in his hospital room. It was a care package from the Wounded Warrior Project.
Over the next months, Wounded Warrior Project volunteers helped Duplisea recover. The group organized a scuba trip and other events where Duplisea met other wounded soldiers.
“The idea is to get that healing process going,” Duplisea said. “It builds camaraderie.”
Duplisea retired from the Army two years later and began working for a defense contractor as an expert in improvised explosive devices. In 2008 Raytheon hired him as a recruiter. He recently earned a master’s degree in business administration.
Now Duplisea works with Wounded Warrior Project to find job candidates for Raytheon. He still goes to events organized by the group, and in 2010 he helped organize a fundraising hike for the organization in Arizona.
“My personal message has always been, with Raytheon and the Wounded Warrior Project, `Hey, if I can do this, so can you,’” Duplisea said.
“There were some times where I sat there and said, `What’s going to happen to me? I don’t know what I’m going to do in the civilian world,’” he said. “But I quickly found out that I do have skills, I do have something to offer. So I must be doing something right.”
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