Troop Surge Felt in Tampa

TAMPA -

This week, National Public Radio has examined conditions in Iraq one year after the troop surge. WUSF took the opportunity to look at how the surge affected some on the home-front.

Private First Class Jim White and Specialist Ariel Ramirez are with the Third Infantry Division based at Ft. Stewart in Georgia. They will remember the one year anniversary of the troop surge in Iraq as the first time they flew in a blimp.

'I felt like a hawk or an eagle,' says White. 'I've got really good vision. Being up there 800 or 1,000 feet with crystal clear vision, I felt like a bird.'

PFC White is currently bound to a wheelchair. Both his legs were broken and severely burned when an explosive device hit his Humvee. That was four months ago in Arab Jabbar, Iraq.

Whether it's a ride on a blimp or a trip to see a shuttle launch, outings are a crucial part of the healing process that's going on at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital Poly-Trauma Rehabilitation Center.

Center Director Dr. Stephen Scott says the specialized centers were set up to treat the most severely wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers come in with multiple wounds like head injuries, amputations, burns, lost hearing, vision, the inability to speak.

They're injuries not normally rehabilitated Scott says.

The Haley Poly-Trauma Rehabilitation Center is one of only four in the U.S. And, it's the busiest. Haley has rehabilitated more than a third of all severely wounded combat veterans from the Iraq War.

Scott says the troop surge in 2007 had an impact at the Tampa center located more than 8,000 miles from Iraq.

'The surge also gave a surge of new injuries. So, we had the highest number of injuries we had here was right before Christmas,' Scott says.

Right now, his most challenging injuries are soldiers with low level head injuries. Scott says this past year was the year of the traumatic brain injury and heightened awareness of invisible wounds such as a loss of vision or hearing or constant pain.

As a specialist in rehabilitation, Dr. Scott knows little things like sending wounded soldiers on a blimp ride can make a big difference.

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