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Archive for Sunday, April 18, 2010

Iraq veteran carefully plans his next steps

Soldier pursuing medical discharge after being wounded in IED blast

Army SPC. David Conway II, a 2005 graduate of Lawrence High School, talks about the events leading up to his injury from an improvised explosive device on July 12, 2009, while serving in Iraq.

Army SPC. David Conway II, a 2005 graduate of Lawrence High School, talks about the events leading up to his injury from an improvised explosive device on July 12, 2009, while serving in Iraq.

April 18, 2010

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A printout of X-ray film from last year showing a nail lodged in his left foot and a certificate noting his Bronze Star sit a few feet away from Army Spc. David Conway II, as he leans back in a recliner at his grandparents’ house in east Lawrence.

The 2005 Lawrence High School graduate has the nail that surgeons removed in one of the several procedures he’s undergone in 10 months. He plans to make it part of a necklace or another piece of jewelry.

Conway, 23, talks a lot about moving forward with his life these days since an improvised explosive device injured him and eight other people on July 12, 2009, as they left a meeting with district government officials outside al-Sharqat in northern Iraq.

“There’s been hard times, but I think definitely I’ve matured over it because of being in the military,” Conway said this week as he visited Lawrence. “I’ve experienced a lot more than I think the average 23-year-old would experience. It’s kind of opened my eyes to the world outside of Lawrence.”

The attack

“It was a mortar. We don’t really know too much on it. It was set behind a Hesco barrier, a big barrier full of dirt. It was hidden behind there. We walked passed it, and that’s the way it happened.”

On that afternoon last July, Conway was 22 years old serving his second deployment in Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division. His duty was to provide security to Army officers and other officials as they helped local Iraqi governments develop their police and military.

Things had improved dramatically compared with his first deployment. American troops had withdrawn from urban centers in Iraq about two weeks earlier.

Conway had noticed how calm things had become 11 months into his second tour. “We were in the same area my first deployment, and my first one, we got hit all the time. It was quite a dramatic improvement as far as Iraq goes,” he said.

But on this day, at a meeting in al-Sharqat, in Salahuddin province, between American officials and district government officials about improving the police system, the calm was shattered.

Conway was with five other troops, an interpreter and two civilians. They were inside an Iraqi police checkpoint walking back to their vehicles.

Then suddenly on the walk back “we got hit,” and the blast itself broke Conway’s tibia and threw him for five feet.

Shrapnel ripped into his calf.

The nail shot through his foot, cut his peroneal tendon and broke his heel. He also suffered a torn right shoulder muscle and a concussion.

Conway said four others also had major injuries, and four were able to return to duty. He was eventually taken to a military hospital in Iraq, then to Germany and back to Hawaii.

Other than the hospital, his last memories of Iraq are the chaos of the explosion. Given the situation, he said he felt his unit and the Army did make strides with the Iraqis. He says the country is moving in the right direction as far democracy and women’s rights.

“I think we did a pretty good job of instilling a solid government over there,” he said.

Road to recovery

“It sucks. ... I’m confident that in the next couple of years I’m going to be back to almost the way it was before.”

Conway sat last week in the east Lawrence living room of his grandparents, Jerry and Betty Conway. He’s had several surgeries in the last 10 months and has spent most of his recovery time stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

More surgeries are on the horizon after he returns from his two-week visit to Kansas. His father, David, and stepmother, Kristie Conway, also live in Lawrence.

Conway has started the process for a medical discharge. He walks pretty well — not too fast — but in the infantry you need to be able to do about 12 miles a day.

“I can’t do that any more,” Conway said.

But he has received a fresh start. He’s taking psychology classes at Chaminade University in Hawaii. Once his discharge is finalized, he’s hoping to return to Lawrence and attend Kansas University. He hopes to study criminal justice and use his military background in law enforcement, possibly as a U.S. marshal.

His grandfather says the family is thankful that David has rebounded and they see his future plans coming together.

“I can see that he’s got a new start in life with the opportunities that he has now,” Jerry Conway said.

As he manages his start, David Conway still has reminders, both good and bad, about the past.

He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

“I just did my job out there, and I think a lot of other people did their jobs out there who probably should have got the same recognition as I did.”

He also has the injuries, more surgeries and even treatment for traumatic brain injury.

“You can’t go through the rest of your life without thinking about what you could have done differently or what you could have done better,” he said. “I think about that all the time. I think about my first deployment more than I think about the incident because we experienced a lot in our first deployment.

“I look at it as a learning experience.”

Comments

missinks 4 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for your service to our country. I wish you all the best in your recovery and in your future plans!! You have a long life ahead of you and may the Lord bless you and your family!

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Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

I think it's disgusting that there are more comments today about a lost cat than there are thanks for a man who helped make freedom of speech possible in our country.

THANK YOU from me!

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tomatogrower 4 years, 4 months ago

If you click on the cat story there is really only 4 comments. The 50 comments must be a glitch in LJW column. So chill out.

Wish you all the luck, Mr. Conway.

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Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, I noticed that there were only 4 comments on the cat, and one on this guy. The math is not complex.

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Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

Good news! Army Spc. David Conway II now beats out the cat!

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RoeDapple 4 years, 4 months ago

jeez . . . I thought a donation this morning to VFW might count for something. Guess Ron would rather rant on the internet . . .

Thank you for your service David. Keep looking forward!

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Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 4 months ago

Sorry RoeDapple, I was just ticked that judging from the # of comments, the readers thought the cat was more important. Thanks for the donation to the VFW, yes it does count for something! BTW, a direct contribution is much better than one from the solicitations you recieve on the phone and through the mail!

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RoeDapple 4 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for your service time also Ron. I always contribute directly, phone solicitors get hung up on and mailings get trashed.

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Deja Coffin 4 years, 4 months ago

I wish I had the courage and strength to do something as honorable as you. I appreciate you serving this country and keeping myself and my family safe. Wishing you the best in your years ahead.

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WHY 4 years, 4 months ago

KU doesn't have a criminal justice program so you may need a new plan. good luck.

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beatrice 4 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for your service, and we wish you a full recovery.

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yankeevet 4 years, 4 months ago

Thanks veteran..................I think more of u then these basketball/football players........

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md 4 years, 4 months ago

I am a combat disabled vet from the vietnam war.The thing that concerns me is that when he gets out of the service he is going to have to deal with the v.a.Past war vets have had to some times wait for decades to have a claim resolved.I am told by several docs that I need to quit work as it agitates my wounds.I know if I do I will loose my house,car,and maybe my life.Those of us that say thanks for his service, try doing a little more.Research what happens to vets after the service.Then pressure the government to do something about it.That would be the way to really thank a vet.

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denak 4 years, 4 months ago

I agree with you MD.

When I was in the service, they gave me 4 hearing test before I miraculously passed the fourth one. They were hell bent and determined to make sure that I passed that test so that they would not have to give me disability. I severely injured my left leg while I was in,, a problem that still persists today, and they didn't give me anything. I'm not whining that I didn't get anything, there were people much worst off..only illustrating how difficult it is to get disability while you are still in the service or at time of discharge. I can only imagine how hard it is to get now considering what I have heard about the poor service that the VA is giving returning Iraqi vets(especially the women vets).

So, I hope David gets what he needs and I hope that the posters let their representative know how much our Iraqi vets need a system that meets their needs.

Dena USMC

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beatrice 4 years, 4 months ago

Yep, it is all Michelle Obama's fault.

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jgragg 4 years, 4 months ago

You're a hero, SPC. Conway! Thank you!

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