Monday, May 15, 2006

A Day in the Life of a Hero

PFC Joshua Sparling represents all that is good and honorable in the U.S. Military. To say that he's been through the "wringer" is an understatement and he still has a long, hard road to travel before he can get back on his chosen path. Josh has survived the worst that terrorists in Iraq and anti-American scumbags here could throw at him without losing his amazingly generous nature and love for his brothers-in-arms.

Recently, Josh and his father Mike Sparling experienced the dramatically different ways some Americans choose to honor our heros. The following is a letter Mike sent to one American who knows the right way to do it.

Josh and Mike Sparling at Walter Reed in March.
April 29, 2006

Dear Mr. “John Doe”,

“John”, when I met you at Ronald Reagan International Airport, you asked that I send you an e-mail in regards to my son, PFC Joshua Sparling. You wanted to know what happened to him while he was stationed in Iraq and what he and the family have been through during this period.

Let me begin by telling you how grateful and thankful we were for you on his flight back to Detroit. As you witnessed, it was very emotional and stressful for both Joshua and myself.

Joshua is with the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He dropped out of college to enlist with the 82nd to fight in the War on Terror. The recruiter told him he was nuts, because of his testing he could be in any MOS they had to offer. Joshua told him that he wanted to go after the bastards that came after us and he could not do that by sitting behind a desk.

In July 2005, Joshua went to West Point on temporary duty with C company 504-PIR, to train cadets for two months. Joshua was given a citation and written up in the New York papers. Basically, the article said that PFC Sparling was on the open fire obstacles with the cadets and one of them lifted their head too high. Josh ran to the officer and yelled at him to keep his damn head down or it would be blown off in combat. The officer embraced Joshua, thanked him and bought him a beer.

They did such a good job with the cadets they were going to be rewarded with a two-week temporary duty in Europe to get their overseas jump wings, which nobody has received since WWII. A week before they were to leave, they got the call the Marines needed support in Iraq.

On September 2, 2005, they arrived in Baghdad, Iraq. Once in Baghdad, Joshua came down with smallpox in reaction to the shot to prevent them. He was under care for three weeks for that and still has scars on the back of his neck and shoulders. They asked him if he wanted to go to Germany for treatment, but he told them he would not leave unless everyone in the 82nd got to go with him.

Joshua then proceeded with his unit to support the Marines in Operation Steel Curtain, on the Syrian border. There were seven member squads of 101st Airborne (Paratroopers), Marines, and Joshua’s squad from the 82nd. The 82nd and Marine squads came under fire from the terrorists. During the fight, the 101st started firing on Joshua’s squad and the Marines. They thought they were engaging terrorists. “Tom”, with the 82nd was hit in the leg by the 101st. Joshua and his squad leader ran 200 meters while under constant enemy fire to the right of the terrorists and got behind a light pole to draw fire away from the two squads, while killing three terrorists, so they could retreat. Then the 101st realized what had happened and took out the appropriate target, killing the remaining terrorists. Joshua called me and said, “Dad, I thought I was going to be killed today, but God had other plans.” Joshua was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor. “Tom”, with the 82nd was shipped to Kuwait for treatment for the rifle wounds he received. Lucky for “Tom” it was a clean wound causing no damage. “Tom” rejoined Joshua and his unit 4 weeks later.

Joshua’s unit and the Marines then went to Ramadi, Iraq for a support mission. While on lookout, they spotted a motor boat crossing the river. ... Josh was told to try to hit the boat with a 50-caliber machine gun. Josh fired one burst, which sank the boat, and they captured the surviving terrorist. Two terrorists were killed from the explosion of the motor boat. Later, Joshua and his unit were on foot patrol when they came under fire from out of a house. Joshua was told to toss in a grenade. The terrorists sent out two kids around eight years old with the grenade. The kids were blown up by that grenade, which Joshua still cannot deal with. The remaining terrorists were killed.

“Tom” rejoins the unit on November 18, 2005. The 82nd only has two more missions and they can return home. On November 20, 2005 at 1100 hours, they were on foot patrol in the outskirts of Ramadi. They spot what they thought were terrorists and began pursuit on foot. Then the terrorist turned around and set off an IED, or improvised explosive device. Joshua saw the red detonator and yelled before it went off blowing Josh 20 yards away and injuring “Tom”, who had just rejoined the unit two days before.

I received the call by satellite phone from Joshua’s squad leader so Joshua could tell me goodbye. Joshua said, “Dad, I’m sorry, but I’ve been hit bad and they don’t think I’m gonna make it.” Joshua’s buddy tied on a tourniquet above his knee to stop the bleeding. Skin and the knee braces, that all paratroopers wear, were holding on his leg. The chopper was there within two minutes carrying doctors and medics. They started giving him blood transfusions and got the bleeding stopped on the way back to Baghdad.

I received a call saying he was being sent to Landstuhl, Germany for further treatment. On November 23, 2005, I got a call saying Joshua was being shipped to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I arrived here on November 24th, the same day Joshua did. The doctor in ER wanted to amputate his leg at that point, but it would have been an amputation just below the hip. Joshua said no, so the doctor called in another surgeon, who was on leave. Major Tis, the BEST surgeon in the country in our eyes, told Joshua that he would personally take his case up with Captain Mack and Captain Hagelson, but it was going to be a long hard road ahead. Joshua and I agreed with Major Tis.

On the way to his first surgery on November 24th, the Red Cross gave Joshua a card. Josh thanked them for the card and opened it the next day. The card said, “Have a great time in the war and have a great time dieing in the war.” Joshua hung the card on the wall of his hospital room as an incentive to get well so he could go back to Iraq and finish the job.

Brian Kilmeade from Fox News and Colonel Oliver North came by the hospital just before Christmas and saw the card. They were appalled that someone would send such a card. The story made the news on Fox and Friends. Sean Hannity was made aware of the card and interviewed Joshua on his radio show.

On December 10, 2005, I became unemployed because of the time I would have to be with my son, which is the same day Joshua had a sixteen-hour surgery and the same day he was awarded the Purple Heart. Joshua was also awarded the Silver Star, and will receive it when he travels to Fort Bragg at the beginning of June.

From November 20, 2005 through January 15, 2006, Joshua had over 23 surgeries on his right leg while being treated for depression. He has had 31 surgeries to date. Joshua was discharged from the hospital on February 4, 2006 and began physical therapy. Both bones on his lower right leg were completely gone as well as his calf muscle and nerves. They removed the muscle from his stomach and placed it just below his knee. They did skin graphs from his left leg and hip to put on his right leg and used a new drug hormone that promotes new bone growth.

Joshua suffered other injuries from the explosion as well. He has a blown eardrum, cracked teeth with cavities blown out and shrapnel wounds inside his mouth and all over his body.

In March, Joshua and I were finally able to go home to see our family and friends for the first time in nearly four months. Upon our return to Walter Reed, Joshua informed his great Doctors that he could not get the pain out of his right foot, which was not damaged. They x-rayed his leg and foot. The bone in his leg is now about the size of a spaghetti noodle. The extensive damage done to the nerves in the leg was so severe that the foot was trying to tell the brain that everything was okay, but there are no nerves left in the leg to relay the message, so the foot believes it is damaged. Upon further testing they discovered that Joshua has no feeling in his lower right leg. The good news is in nine to ten months, Joshua’s bones, just below the transplanted stomach muscle, will be large enough to support a below the knee amputation. This news came to us about two weeks ago. Joshua is still on five different narcotics for pain and two anti-depressants, along with others for bone growth.

That brings me to the part where you, “John”, helped us. Joshua had booked a flight to go home for another convalescent leave on SPIRIT Airlines. We told them we would need a wheelchair and assistance with security because he was a wounded paratrooper confined to a wheel chair. They told us that would not be a problem. We normally use Northwest and they are great, but SPIRIT was $35.00 less so we booked with SPIRIT. I cannot fly with Joshua, because when he is home we need a car to go back and forth to the hospital and to dental and ortho appointments. I always send him first then I drive back to Michigan. This is when the incident occurred that precipitated our meeting with you, “John”. You are a great American and a great representative for your company.

We arrived at the airport at 4:30 pm for a 5:10 flight. When we arrived there was no wheel chair, no one at the SPIRIT counter and no security. I looked for a SPIRIT employee for ten minutes. Joshua said, “Dad I’m going to miss my flight, just get me to the gate and they can help us there.” Northwest gave us a wheel chair, but we still had no security. Security would not let us through because we had no boarding pass. We informed them that SPIRIT had our boarding pass and asked that he please let us go to the gate with him and he could verify it, or get someone from SPIRIT and they could give it to him. The security guard said, “You are no different than any other passenger with no boarding pass - no go.”

My son started to cry uncontrollably and told the guard to go to hell. Another lady spoke up and said, “That’s what you get for fighting in a war we have no business in.” Madder and very emotional I asked, “Can’t you remember 9-11?” She responded that was just our excuse to be in Iraq when we should not be there and we deserved whatever we got. That is when my son really lost it. Three WWII vets were coming off flights into DC, gave my son a hug, and stood up to the lady and security guard. They stayed with my son until he flew out.

In the meantime, a wonderful man who works for the Military Severely Injured Center, and assigned to the airport, was called by security. He asked what was going on. The Vets and I explained the situation and he said he would get someone from SPIRIT as soon as possible. It was now 4:50 pm and the plane leaves at 5:10. He went to the SPIRIT counter and there was still no one there. At 5:00, he found the employees in the back room at the SPIRIT counter, where they had been the entire time. He could not explain why they were not there to support their passengers. The manager came out and told us we were too late and they could not get Joshua on the flight because it was leaving in ten minutes. He also explained that it was a non-refundable ticket, but he would let us fly tomorrow evening. The head of MSIC (Military Severely Injured Center) said to give us a voucher on another airline and get the Soldier out tonight. The SPIRIT manager said they do not do vouchers for other airlines. I then suggested they give us a refund so we can get a ticket on another airline…he said, “NO.” The head of MSIC told them to give the Soldier a refund now or we will press charges against SPIRIT. We were then given a refund.

Meanwhile, Joshua was still at security. I told him “SPIRIT would not help us, but hang tight, I’ll get you out tonight, I promise.” Joshua said, “never mind Dad, it’s not worth it. I’m going to end it tonight. I said don’t you dare do anything stupid. There are too many people who care about you and too many people have got you where you are today. Remember they thought you were going to die and you fought hard to stay alive.
I went to the Northwest counter and the lady was crying because of what had happened. She told me she was already working on a ticket for Joshua. Northwest offered any passenger a free roundtrip ticket to anywhere they flew, if they would give up their seat for a soldier who was severely injured in Iraq.

EIGHT businessmen came forward and said he could have their seat and no compensation was necessary. Northwest then asked if anyone would give up his or her first class seat for Joshua. A gentleman came forward and said Joshua could have his seat, saying he would sit in the toilet if need be. Other passengers remarked that Joshua could sit anywhere on the plane he wants and we will sit wherever.

That is when I broke down and started to cry. Everyone on that Northwest flight began patting Joshua on the back shaking his hand and telling him what a great job he did and how proud they were of him and the other troops who serve. After helping my son board, not one person failed to tell me thanks for what my son and I have been through. Joshua made it back to Michigan and is doing extremely well. He has therapy at Port Huron Hospital and he has counseling twice a week and is doing great!

Since this ordeal began, I have lost my job, Joshua and I have missed the birth of my grandson and granddaughter, my 18-year-old son’s graduation from high school and every holiday. Joshua and I feel we would go through it again if need be. My belief has always been God, Family and Country, in that order, nothing else matters.

I am a proud father/grandfather of eight children and ten grandchildren. We will be home in May, to see all the family. We both will return to Walter Reed in June for follow-ups. Joshua should be able to return to the 82nd Airborne in the next 18-24 months or so.

Please keep all of our troops in harms way in your thoughts and prayers. Five out of the seven paratroopers in Joshua’s unit were injured in Iraq. Three of the five are still there. Joshua just got the unlucky straw because he was injured the worst. One of the two injured Marines is already back with his unit. I say already, but it has been over 5 months. Thank God, neither unit lost any lives!

Thanks again “John”, for your kind heart and your uplifting spirit. If any one wants to send a card or anything, please address it to me so I can screen it first.

God bless you and may God continue to bless America. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Josh, Mike and "John" - THANK YOU!