Army sniper severely wounded in Afghanistan faces 'long road ahead'
By ADAM ASHTON | The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune | Published: June 8, 2013
Sgt. Luke Cifka left for Afghanistan this past spring determined to return home to his wife and infant son.
He’s back in the states with family, but not in the way he wanted.
The 26-year-old soldier from Olympia suffered critical injuries during a patrol in Logar province on May 31. He’s at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland at the beginning of what his wife describes as a “long road ahead.”
“We’re very, super, super lucky that as serious as his injuries are, he’s still alive,” said Kait Cifka, 23. The family did not want to describe publicly at this time the extent of his wounds nor how they were inflicted.
Sgt. Cifka reached Walter Reed on Tuesday in a sedated state. He’s doing better now. His wife described him as alert during times when he’s not recovering from or preparing for surgeries. He even had his family members laughing Thursday night.
“He’s doing surprisingly well,” she said.
They’re buckling down for long-term care either at Walter Reed or Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, two of the military’s premier hospitals for treating severely wounded service members.
“He needs prayers and support,” Kait Cifka said. “He’s still got guys over there. A lot of families still have guys over there, and they need prayers and support just as much as we do.”
Sgt. Cifka, a 2005 Olympia High School graduate, was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Stewart, Ga. He previously deployed to Operation New Dawn, a mission centered on post-war Iraq and Kuwait.
He grew up in a family of Olympia educators. His dad, Steve Cifka, is a retired Olympia School District teacher. His mom, Susan Aurand, is an art professor at The Evergreen State College.
His father-in-law, Sgt. 1st Class James Ausmann of Lacey, serves in an infantry unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Kait Cifka’s mother, Kelly Burk, is home in Lacey taking care of 5-month-old Wyatt, the wounded sergeant’s son.
Close friends of the family have set up an online fundraising effort to help the Cifkas pay for unexpected expenses. So far, it has raised more than $16,000.
“This is a way we can help Kait and Luke ensure they will not have to worry about financial needs during this recovery time for Luke,” wrote the fundraiser’s organizer, Tiffany Riggins of Virginia.
Kait Cifka described her husband as a determined soldier who joined the Army after studying for a time at Washington State University.
“He’s a very good soldier. He’s a really great sniper. He’s a really great leader, and his leaders can’t say enough about him,” she said.
He was at a sniper school last year on their first wedding anniversary. As a silver lining for his early homecoming, Kait told him they’d be able to celebrate their second anniversary together this July.
“He was like ‘that’s awesome,’” she said. “When you’re in the military, those things are a big deal.”