Injured Mass. soldier home and ready for changed life
The (North Andover, Mass.) Eagle-Tribune
Specialist Bryan Ward was looking for adventure. Now 22, Ward joined the Army shortly after graduating from Acton Boxborough Regional High School and after living with family in Methuen for several months.
While serving in his first tour of Afghanistan, Ward was seriously injured in February when the Stryker he was driving was hit by an explosive device. He has made a quick and stunning recovery from the multiple fractures he suffered from the explosion.
After the blast, he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, to recover, and flew home for a visit on June 14 to see his parents in Maynard and his family in Methuen. Both sets of grandparents live in the city, and his parents, Wade Ward and Cara (Peters) Cormier, grew up here.
"My dad had picked me up (at Logan Airport) and it was a feeling of relief and immediate relaxation knowing that I was home, didn't have to worry about anything or about the Army," Ward said. "It was just me and my family. It was a wonderful feeling."
During the afternoon of Feb. 7, Ward's platoon, part of the 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska, was returning to Kandahar Air Base outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city located in the southern part of the country.
Ward drove the Stryker, an eight-wheeled armored transport and fighting vehicle, over a bridge when an explosion flipped them and mangled the vehicle. It was like someone just turned a TV off. "That's how it felt because I remember driving, then I remember waking up in the Stryker," he said.
The hatch covering the exit from the vehicle was damaged, and with multiple fractures all over his body, Ward had to wait for his platoon to pull the hatch off with another Stryker before he could shimmy out of the hole so the medic could pull him free. Of the six in the Stryker, he was injured the worst. The gunner suffered a broken arm, he said.
The Army said the explosion was an improvised explosive device, or IED, which is one of the homemade bombs made by insurgents and terrorists that are buried along busy roads. But Ward said his platoon believes it was more powerful than that and could have been a stolen American ordnance.
He suffered fractures in multiple vertebrae, in both arms, his left hand, his face and all three bones in his right leg, along with nerve damage in his ankle.
After being treated and transferred to Sam Houston to recover, Ward healed fast. His mother, Cara Cormier, visited him in both February and March and said his recovery was remarkable.
"I'm extremely proud of him. I think he's the best of anybody in what he's done and overcome," Cormier said. "He was determined to push forward and get back on his feet, and start healing and recovering as quickly as possible."
Ward was discharged from the hospital April 23. His right leg is a little shorter, and the nerve damage in his ankle limits its mobility, but Ward said he is looking forward to the future.
His injuries mean he cannot return to duty — he is being processed for a medical discharge — but he said the 10-month tour and his entire experience in the Army changed his life.
"Before I was in the Army, I was very impulsive and quick to do this, this and this," he said. "I never planned and had an agenda, but now that I've been injured, I'm more responsible and not as impulsive."
As a teenager, he spent his time watching movies, playing paintball and driving fast — "being a normal teenager, but trying to find something more in it," he said.
After graduating high school in 2009 he moved in with an aunt and uncle, who were expecting a child, in Methuen. But he felt adrift and had a dead-end job, he said. He said his late great-grandfather, a Marine, had wanted him to join the military. In addition to that, a close friend from high school joined the Army as well, and he felt a responsibility to enlist "to keep an eye on each other."
He planned to see his buddy, who was assigned to another unit at Fort Hood outside of Waco, Texas, for the first time in two years this past weekend.
He said his father, who had been in the Air Force, was not completely on board at first. But after his injury he said his relationship with Wade Ward improved dramatically. "We're like brothers now," he said.
When he landed in Boston June 14, one of the first things he and his dad did was to watch "21 Jump Street."
"It was awesome. It was funny and took my mind off the speed bump I was in at the time," he said.
After his discharge, Bryan Ward said he plans to enroll in a business program and is looking at schools ranging from the University of Massachusetts Lowell to Northeastern University to Babson College in Wellesley to Bentley University in Waltham. Eventually, he wants to open a pub that specializes in microbrew beers and to work helping veterans find jobs after their service.