A message of hope from Jessica Clements 10 years after war injury
GREEN, Ohio — May 5 will always be Jessica Clements’ special day.
It is her Alive Day, the day she survived a horrible war injury.
It was 10 years ago today that Clements was critically injured in an Iraq roadside bombing and suffered a penetrating traumatic brain injury.
At the time, doctors gave her just a 2 percent chance of survival.
A decade later, Clements, now 37, has relearned how to do just about everything — to speak, walk, read and write — and has earned two degrees. The degrees include a bachelor’s and master’s in social work from the University of Akron. She now works at the Canton Social Security office as a service representative.
She will celebrate the milestone at a party with family and friends next weekend.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for their love, prayers and encouragement and mostly for believing in me,” Clements said.
Clements left for Basic Training shortly after graduating from Green High School in 1995 and served with the Army Reserve 706th Transportation Company out of Mansfield.
She was serving with that unit as a staff sergeant in Iraq when a roadside bomb struck the truck she was riding in. Shrapnel damaged the right side of her brain and also entered her lower back and hip.
A portion of her skull had to be removed and placed in her abdomen while swelling in the brain subsided. After three months, the piece of skull was reattached.
“I had to go through speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy,” Clements said.
Looking back, she said she realizes how much she struggled when she first came home in February 2005.
“I wasn’t ready to be on my own,” she said. “I had no clue.”
A decade later, she still suffers from migraine headaches and nightmares, occasional seizures and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The headaches never stopped,” she said.
While she said she has gotten the post-traumatic stress disorder under control and talks to a VA counselor every three months, it is always there.
“It is still frustrating because it won’t go away,” she said. “I wish it would.”
The anniversary of her injury date has always been difficult.
“The nightmares start coming back,” said Clements, who still has pieces of shrapnel in her brain.
She said it does not seem like it has been a decade since she was injured.
“When looking back at all I have accomplished, wow, I can’t believe it,” she said.
In a large shadow box she keeps her medals, including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
A bullet casing from the three-round volley fired at the September 2004 military funeral of Army Pfc. Devin Grella at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman is there in the shadow box as well, next to the letters of the word BELIEVE.
Clements attended the funeral of the 21-year-old soldier from Medina Township who served in her Army Reserve unit when she was home for the first time after being wounded. She picked up one of the casings to remember Grella.
Grella came to the Army Reserve unit after Clements was wounded so she never met him.
“Even though I never met him I felt a connection,” she said.
Also in the shadow box are the blood-stained boots she wore the day she was wounded.
She dreams of someday working to help veterans.
“No matter what happens, there is always tomorrow,” she said. “Don’t give up, no matter how bad you think it is. … Things can get better no matter how bad it looks.”
She believes she was saved for a reason.
“Why would God let me live if he didn’t have a reason for me,” she said. “If he didn’t want me here on earth, he would have not let me survive.”