Last Updated: 11/02/2012*

Veteran now helps others through Wounded Warrior Project

Sgt. Joe Washam was guarding a suspected chemical weapons site when heard a shout behind him: “It’s going to blow, it’s going to blow!’”

With a roar, flames engulfed Washam’s Humvee. He stumbled out of the vehicle and onto a Baghdad street.

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Joe Washam now helps others through the Wounded Warrior Project.

“I couldn’t see anything at all,” Washam said. “It was just extreme brightness. It was literally a huge fireball that I was in.”

The explosion in April 2004 was the beginning of a two-year ordeal for the 24-year-old sergeant as he struggled to recuperate from serious burns, looked for a new career and tried to make sense of government benefits. 

Like other combat wounded, Washam eventually found support through the Wounded Warrior Project, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based group that offers retreats, job training, college advice and mentoring for veterans.

This month Raytheon is launching an awareness-raising campaign, Hashtags4Heroes, that encourages Twitter users to spread messages about the Wounded Warrior Project.

Washam, of Justin, Texas, arrived in Iraq at the worst possible time – the spring of 2004.

“The insurgency was really starting to kick off all around,” Washam said. “It was really getting nasty.”

As part of the Iraq Survey Group, he was charged with making sure that insurgents didn’t get their hands on chemicals that could be used to make bombs. A tip led the unit to a paint warehouse in downtown Baghdad.

The explosion killed two soldiers and left Washam with burns over half of his body.

The 24-year-old Army sergeant struggled across the street, his skin blackened and his clothing blown into tatters. His neoprene gloves had melted to his flesh.

He spent 20 months at a military hospital in Texas learning to walk and feed himself again.

Washam began helping other patients with their benefits paperwork, and eventually learned about the Wounded Warrior Project. He began participating in the group’s Soldier Rides, group bicycle rides aimed at raising veterans’ spirits and strengthening them physically.

“I try to inspire them,” Washam said. “Learning all these other folks’ stories, there’s always someone who’s got to deal with something worse.”

Washam became an advocate for bills supporting veterans’ rights and founded his own medical-supply company, Wounded Troops Up, along with two other veterans. The company now delivers oxygen and other medical services to 3,100 patients every month.

“Post-injury, people don’t need to be stuck,” Washam said. “I’m not going to let this hold me down. I’m always going to make the best of a situation.”

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