Wounded Warrior Carries Memories of Battle
Sgt. Major Michael VanEngen injured in Taliban attack
ANCHORAGE - On June 1, 2012, a suicide bomber drove 1,500 pounds of explosives near the gate of Forward Operating Base Salerno in Eastern Afghanistan.
Afterwards the Taliban released video of the attack. One shot shows a man driving a truck. A bouquet of flowers sits on the window as he talks to the camera. Then the vantage shifts to a wide shot where the truck is spotted moving along the horizon. Suddenly, a mushroom cloud explodes and a man near the camera shouts "Allah Akbar!" over and over.
At this time Sgt. Major Michael VanEngen was deployed with the 4th Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division. He said it took a minute to get his bearings. "It was raining rocks and rubble on us."
The dining hall was flattened and the 27-year Army veteran rushed to help. "By the time I got my equipment on and went over to the front where it was happening... it was about 10 minutes and they were still fighting over there. I knew it wasn't good," he said. When he got closer to the fighting, he saw a soldier lying on the ground. He said that's when his training kicked in. "My main concern for the past decade or so has always been taking care of the soldiers... that’s all I worry about."
His fellow soldiers dragged him to safety, then took him to the hospital. His injuries were too severe for him to remain in Afghanistan.
For the first time in his nearly three-decade career, over five deployments, Sgt. Major Michael VanEngen was leaving early. Telling his wife he was coming home was one of the hardest things, "I’ve never done that before, you know? I'd been hurt and I was kind of disappointed in myself for being hurt. It was a lump in my throat when I said it."
Once back in the U.S., VanEngen spent months off his feet.
But now, with physical therapy twice a week, he's working on getting full mobility back, despite the pain. His physical therapist, Rachel Odom say's he has the grit to get through it: "I would say [he] courageously takes the torture I have to give."
VanEngen is now thousands of miles away from the battlefield, but reminders of the war are with him with every step.