Spc. Ashley Durham joined the South Carolina National Guard in 2009, wanting to serve his country and help others as a combat medic.
That’s precisely what Durham, who was deployed to Afghanistan in November 2011, was doing in June 2012 when a suicide bomber struck his unit, killing three U.S. servicemembers and critically wounding five others. In the attack in Khost, Durham lost part of his leg and suffered a broken femur, pelvis and left arm.
Durham is currently rehabilitating at the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C.
“I am recovering ridiculously fast,” he said. “It’s been eight months and I am just now supposed to be able to walk. But I was up and running after four months. It’s amazing how fast I have come along.”
The extraordinary care that Durham and other wounded members of the military receive often paves the way toward what can be a long recovery. The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program provides supplementary recreational and entertainment items for these recovering warriors as they rehab.
On March 4, a delegation of Legionnaires headed by National Commander James Koutz presented the WTU at Fort Jackson with $6,500 worth of sports and photography equipment. Koutz has established OCW as his primary fundraising campaign, which turns monetary donations into gifts for wounded, injured or ill troops.
“This is just part of what we can do for the soldiers,” Koutz said. “We went to Dick’s Sporting Goods yesterday and picked up the items that you requested. It makes us feel good to give these items to you soldiers who have sacrificed so much for us. It’s the least we can do.”
Gary Mitchell, commander of the South Carolina Department of The American Legion, agrees.
“We’re concerned with those veterans coming back from war,” said Mitchell, who, like Koutz, is a Vietnam vet. “And we’re trying to help get them get acclimated back in the community and provide equipment for their rehabilitation. ... The soldiers are very appreciative. They are always very appreciative.”
The gifts included archery, baseball, basketball and golf equipment. To Maj. Lisa Yanity, commander of the Fort Jackson WTU, the donations were “like Christmas.”
“The equipment dropped off today will help in our adaptive sports program,” said Yanity, who specifically mentioned the WTU’s teams that compete in the Warrior Games in archery and wheelchair basketball. “It will help their healing process. They can take part in sports, which we all know is a way to heal. With all this wonderful equipment, it will make the job that much easier and that much more fun for them.”
Yanity, who has only been running the WTU for a couple of months, looks forward to continuing to work with the Legion.
“A number of The American Legion folks said this wasn’t available when they came back from Vietnam,” she said. “In this generation, we don’t have those issues because they are reaching back to take care of us, it will be our duty to take care of those who follow us.”
Durham understands the importance of that connection and the donations.
“(They are) a mood changer because our mood can get pretty low based on the things we’ve been through,” he said. “We can use the gifts to make ourselves stronger and improve our day-to-day lives.
“We do appreciate everything we receive. There are no words to say how thankful we are.”