Captain, family reflect on blessings

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Susan and Joseph Kosek are thankful for many things.

However, this Thanksgiving they're especially thankful for things like tourniquets, helicopters, "battle buddies" and scores of doctors and medics across the globe. They're also thankful for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that absorbed most of the blast from a 35-pound improvised explosive device meant to kill their daughter.

"Wendy called me a few hours after she was brought to the Green Zone and said, 'I want to talk to Dad'," Mrs. Kosek recalled. "We didn't know the extent of the injuries, and neither did she."

Despite her injuries, Capt. Wendy Kosek, deployed to Iraq from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., asked to speak with her father so he could relay what had happened -- and calm her mother. In addition to her late-night calls from half a world away, generals and colonels also called the Kosek family repeatedly to say they were sorry she was hit, relay updates and information and to see if the Koseks needed anything.

"They were all so concerned," Mrs. Kosek remembered.

Captain Kosek remembers it was a beautiful day in Iraq Aug. 21, as she traveled in an MRAP convoy from Camp Victory to the International Zone in Baghdad. She remembers the explosion and the gunner yelling, "IED, IED, IED!" She remembers smoke inside her vehicle. Cracks in the window. Blood on her face. Exposed bone in her leg.

"I remember seeing red and white, and I knew there was something really wrong with my leg," she said. "I was trying to stay really calm. I didn't really feel anything."

She remembered her training as she made a self assessment and attempted to help others in the vehicle as shock began to set in. Moments after the blast, Soldiers and Airmen from her vehicle, and others in the convoy, tended to the medical needs of the wounded and loaded them onto another vehicle that was heading to safety.

She received a tourniquet at Camp Victory to stop the heavy bleeding. A 20-minute helo flight brought the captain to a military hospital in Baghdad, where her wound was cleaned and an external fixator was placed on her leg to stabilize it for further travel.

At Joint Base Balad, she had minor surgery. Following that, she spent a day at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and the following night in Washington, D.C.

Her injuries were extensive: the blast shattered a portion of her tibia and part of her femur. Three plates and screws now piece the fragments back together. During her time at Brooke Army Medical Center, she has received three surgeries to repair her leg.

"This experience made me feel confident about my recovery," said Captain Kosek. "Worst case, if something happens, the care people receive is amazing."

Prior to this deployment, her first since joining the Air Force, the captain attended pre-deployment training for three weeks at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where she learned convoy operations, marksmanship and combat lifesaving skills. She also attended judge advocate-specific training with other military lawyers. Little did she know, her next gathering with fellow judge advocate generals would occur at a conference in Dallas Oct. 29, where she was awarded the Purple Heart.

In theater, her mission was two-fold: prosecute Iraqi detainees and prepare evidence packages to transfer cases to the local authorities.

"We needed to get detainees out of our prisons and into Iraqi custody," she said, "in support of the security agreement with Iraq."

As a lawyer, she witnessed firsthand how many Iraqis committed violent crimes against their own countrymen.

"When I saw what they do to their own people, it didn't surprise me what they'd do to a convoy of American Soldiers," she said.

Despite her hardships, Captain Kosek said she enjoyed her time there because of the people she worked with on a daily basis.

"I enjoyed meeting Iraqi people, lawyers and court clerks -- to put faces with the people in the country and establish relationships," she said.

Captain Kosek earned her commission in 2004 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Notre Dame. The Fort Worth, Texas, native began her active duty service in January 2007 after taking an educational delay and reserve commission during law school.

Before her injury, she enjoyed distance running. Today, she uses crutches to make her way around the Fisher House, in between physical therapy sessions for her injured leg. She also received shrapnel wounds to her face and hands. Shrapnel remains behind her left knee and she'll be in a leg brace for a long time, she said.

Captain Kosek is assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing Legal Office at Little Rock, but is currently in recovery at BAMC. She, along with her mother, stay at the Fisher House - a home-away-from-home for the families of injured patients receiving medical treatment.  She'll be reevaluated in January, from a physical therapy standpoint, and hopes to remain on active duty.

Her father and her fiancé, Maj. William Buckingham, a C-130J pilot currently attending the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., alternate weekend visits to the Fisher House. Her parents, fiancé ,and brother, Army Capt. Joe Kosek, attended her Purple Heart presentation in October. The next family gathering is scheduled for Thanksgiving when Major Buckingham plans to drive Captain Kosek and her mother back to Fort Worth for the holiday.

"It will be nice to go home, even for a few days," Captain Kosek said. "I have a tremendous amount to be thankful for, this year especially."

Of all her blessings, the 27-year-old captain said she's most thankful for two things: her life and her support network.

"The shrapnel came very close to hitting my major artery, and if that happened, I may not be here. My family, fiancé, friends, co-workers at Little Rock, peers that I was deployed with and fellow Airmen ... have been extraordinarily supportive and their strength pushes me forward."