Wounded Warriors--Part III - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/25/06

Wounded Warriors--Part III

Spc. Michael Poppert Spc. Michael Poppert

We celebrated with thousands of soldiers and families as the Third Infantry and 48th Brigade returned from Iraq. But many of those who returned came home with injuries and wounds that forever changed their military careers and their lives.

They have overcome so much, and that's a tribute to them. But not all of them have happy endings. Despite that, they're all heroes.

For an hour, the Division Support Brigade's motor pool had all the glory of Cottrell Field as commanders handed out medals and honors from their year in Iraq. After just a few steps, Spc. Michael Poppert stands out among the men and women in uniform. An Army-issue cane quietly validates his Purple Heart.

"My team's job was to escort the brigade commander wherever he needed to go, other bases that were in country," he told us. "Some days it was just 30 miles down the road. Other days we'd go two hours down the road."

On just such a mission on October 26, a roadway IED shattered his Humvee and his team.

"There was an explosion, and at first I wasn't sure if it was our truck or not, cause I was in a daze," Poppert told us. "Blew my weapon out of my hand and I noticed that we were the ones that were hit. I started yelling for the other guys to see if they were okay, and of course they were already gone.

"We were still riding down the road at 40 miles an hour with no driver, so I got down in the turret and held on. The truck rolled to a stop and I had to push my 50 caliber off my chest cause it was off its mount. Push it off, jumped out of the truck cause it was on fire."

The attack killed Poppert's driver and medic. "That's probably the worst part, knowing that I was the only survivor and they made the ultimate sacrifice and I didn't."

It also left pieces of shrapnel buried in his backside and upper leg. So now he's basically waiting for the rest of the shrapnel to work its way out. "Gets closer to the surface for them to cut it out without damaging major tissue," he told us. "They cut out another piece a couple of weeks ago. I felt it coming to the surface and it felt like a little pimple."

But those "pimples," coupled with muscle damage, cost him strength and mobility and are enough to end his career. A medical review board will probably discharge Spc. Poppert by the end of the year.

"I would finish my time and I would go back," he told us. "I'd go back in a heartbeat, I'd do it again."

When asked whether he was frustrated not to have the opportunity, he told us, "It's kind of frustrating when they're saying, 'You can't do this anymore. You have to go,' knowing I was a good soldier."

As noble as the medals may be, they highjack his thoughts to painful memories.

"That sight from that day when I looked inside the truck and everyone else was dead," he said. "That is burned in my brain and will never go away."

He considers himself forever changed in body and spirit. "I've seen a lot more than I ever wanted to see in my life. I've been through a lot of things. Well, that's it. I have a new perspective on life. I don't live for the future any more. I live life day to day."

Spc. Poppert says, if and when he's discharged, he'll go to school to become a pilot back home in Alaska. He's not sure how long it will take for all that shrapnel to work its way out.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com

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