***image1***Sometimes the most painful war wounds are the ones that cannot be treated with conventional medicine. That is the case with Staff Sgt. William B. Winburn, who by his own admission, will need a lot of mental pushups to get past his stint in Iraq.
Sergeant Winburn’s job was to escort convoys. He and his group of three Humvees were returning from a town near the Kuwaiti border July 3, on their way back to Baghdad when it happened. An improvised explosive device hit the sergeant’s vehicle, badly injuring him and decapitating his driver right in front of him. It’s an image the 35-year-old Kentucky native is having a hard time shaking.
“Me and him were close,” said Sergeant Winburn. “We were just sitting there cutting up and the next thing I knew it was over. He never had a chance. At least he didn’t suffer. That’s some conciliation.”
Sergeant Winburn slept only 30 minutes in the four days that followed the blast. Every time he closed his eyes he saw his driver die. The nightmares make sleep an afterthought.
“I smell black powder every night when I lie down,” he said. “I can smell everything in that Humvee. Every time I close my eyes it’s the same thing.”
Upon his arrival at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, one of the first requests he made was to speak with a chaplain. The sergeant’s attitude is not one of a defeatist. He said he knows it’s going to be a difficult to lose the images of war, not to mention the multiple surgeries to his left hand. The blast took his thumb, the end of his little finger and all of the muscle in the palm.
“I’m dealing with it one day at a time,” he said to LRMC Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Paul Williams. “I just feel guilty in my heart because I couldn’t do anything to save him. He was only 22-years-old.”
“The important thing is that you are not bottling up your emotions the way previous generations did,” responded Chaplain Williams. “It’s not a sign of weakness to talk about these things.”
Sergeant Winburn took the advice and talked to anyone who would listen. He spoke at length with nurses and his roommate, an injured Marine. His mood seemed to improve, especially after receiving a few hours of morphine-induced sleep the night of July 7. He said he still had a dream about the incident, but when he woke up, he sat in his hospital bed and spoke aloud – reminding himself to think about positive images.
Remaining positive is so important to his mental recovery, said Chaplain Williams.
“Anything he can do to lift his self-confidence will help because many aspects of this will attack his sense of self,” he said. “He is going to have feelings of inadequacy, but there is hope.”
Joking about his injuries and speaking to his wife and two little girls have buoyed his spirits. As he said, life is too short to be depressed about everything.
“It was such a good feeling to hear from my family,” he said. “A lot of servicemembers will never see their families again. I was lucky. My life was spared and I thank God every day for it.”