Return to Afghanistan brings closure for Rifle vet Ryan McIntosh
Citizen Telegram Editor
Ryan McIntosh hasn’t let the loss of the lower half of his right leg slow him down.
And after the U.S. Army sergeant from Rifle recently returned to where he stepped on a land mine in 2010, early into his first deployment in southern Afghanistan, he believes he’s had closure.
“It was awesome,” McIntosh, 25, said of a week-long visit to Afghanistan in March. “To see what my sacrifice gave to the people in Afghanistan, it made me realize it wasn’t for nothing. It was kind of a closure for me.”
McIntosh, along with five other wounded soldiers, took part in an Operation Proper Exit visit.
Operation Proper Exit’s Facebook page states the program was founded in 2009 as an off-shoot of another nonprofit veterans program, Troops First Foundation. It was founded in August 2008 by two college basketball coaches, Rick Kell and David Feherty. Operation Proper Exit is for wounded U.S. soldiers making positive gains in their recovery. They are hand selected and invited to return to the battlefield with fellow wounded soldiers to get a sense of closure to their mission, according to the Facebook page.
“I was kind of indifferent about it before we went over,” McIntosh said. “I thought I might just worry about what happened and feel sorry for myself. But I feel I really finished that part of my journey.”
More than three years after his injury, McIntosh, who now runs track and field for the U.S. Army, returned to the same hospital where his lower right leg was amputated and told his story to a crowd of service members, nurses and doctors. Later, he laid upon the hospital floor where he once fought a nurse for his wedding ring and took a cell phone photo of the ceiling.
“I got hurt and I wasn’t going to let my injury define me; I was going to define myself,” McIntosh was quoted in a U.S. Army news release as he addressed soldiers at Kandahar Airfield’s Liberty House. “Not because I got injured, but because of what I did after that.”
McIntosh is a sprinter in the Army World Class Athlete program and said he hopes to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He planned to spend a week at the Ft. Carson Army base in Colorado Springs this month for training.
McIntosh played football and ran track at Rifle High School, where he graduated in 2007. He received a scholarship offer to run track and play football at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, but instead enrolled at Mesa State [now Colorado Mesa University] in Grand Junction.
There, he met his wife, Hannah, enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan on Oct. 8, 2010. It was exactly two months after his deployment when McIntosh was injured.
Four of the returning soldiers – McIntosh, retired Sgt. Daniel Harrison, retired Spc. Andrew Miller, and their platoon leader at the time, Capt. Matt Anderson, served with the 4th Infantry Division at Combat Outpost Ware in Kandahar Province when they were injured. A fifth, retired Sgt. Noah Galloway, was deployed with the 101st Airborne Division when he was injured in Iraq in 2005. All made the trip to Afghanistan and talked to service members throughout the visit about their personal stories.
“We had all bonded before, but this trip really brought us full circle,” McIntosh said. “It’s a phenomenal program that brings closure. I appreciate the chance to go back over there.”
Seeing the exact location where he was injured wasn’t as emotional for McIntosh as one might think.
“I was just excited to be there,” he said.
And this Memorial Day will be about the same for McIntosh as any others, before or after his injury.
“I’ll be thinking about all the soldiers, the ones who made it home, the ones who didn’t and the ones still in Afghanistan,” he said. “I still think a lot about those days over there.”
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