Starting today, The Huffington Post begins a ten-part series, Beyond the Battlefield -- an exploration of the physical and emotional challenges, victories and setbacks that catastrophically wounded soldiers encounter after returning home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Beyond the Battlefield is the result of several months of reporting and scores of interviews by the HuffPost's veteran military correspondent, David Wood. It is a deeply-felt, hard-won and wide-ranging exploration of what it means for a soldier to suffer extraordinary, disabling wounds -- and how friends, families, and hometowns, as well as the military and medical communities, adjust and respond to the physical and emotional struggles these wounded warriors endure.
Today you'll meet Tyler Southern, who lost both of his legs and an arm to an IED blast in Afghanistan last year. Southern has gone from nightmares in a hospital bed at Walter Reed to a new marriage, in part because of stunning medical advances that have stretched the boundaries of what it means to rescue and revivify fallen soldiers who once would have been left for dead. Southern also has re-entered the world due to his own stubborn resilience. "Cryin' ain't gonna grow anything back," he says. "I was raised to find the silver lining."
In future articles, you'll also meet soldiers so torn asunder by war that they continue to struggle with anger, depression, and alienation, with little hope of finding any tether back to the world they once knew. And you'll meet unsung heroes such as the spouses and parents of disabled soldiers, who remain the most powerful and unflagging advocates of wounded warriors despite having to confront daily humiliations and frustrations. Many of these caregivers give up jobs and their own identities to commit themselves to spouses or children whom war has unwound.
As one mother, Luana Schneider, so memorably notes in the series, her son went off to war "in the best physical condition of his life," only to return home "in pieces." Yet Schneider has spent the last several years feeding, clothing, and bathing her son, and continues to wrangle with the military bureaucracy to try to ensure that he gets proper care because, she says, she's driven by a simple dictum: "That is my child, and you owe my child respect.''
While Beyond the Battlefield is the most direct handiwork of David Wood, many talented folks at the HuffPost have played a role in bringing this series to life and their work is stellar. There are several moving videos accompanying the series, thanks to our video producer, Adam Kaufman, and our executive producer, Ken Shadford; there is an array of compelling, interactive data visualizations and infographics, courtesy of Chris Spurlock; there is an abundance of riveting photography, which Chris McGonigal helped engineer, and the words flow along nicely on the site thanks to deft editing help from Jeff Muskus. Get ready to see more superb narrative journalism from this team.
In the meantime, for those of you who would like to offer help of your own to severely wounded and disabled soldiers, please visit our Impact page, where you will find a list of resources that can help make that possible.
Follow Timothy L. O'Brien on Twitter: www.twitter.com/timobrien