Wash.-Based Soldier Overcomes War Wounds, Gets MBA

Jun 29, 2011

LACEY, Wash. – Over the past year, we've brought you several stories about soldiers struggling in their transition home from war – some have gotten in trouble with the law, others even died tragically. Today, we hear another kind of story. It's about an Army captain who battled back from a grave injury and recently graduated from business school.

As the neighbor dogs carry on, Brian Giroux drives nails into a storage shed he's constructing in his back yard.

The thick-necked 28-year-old from Ventura, California still has the physique of the college football player he once was. You have to look closely to even see the scars where doctors put rods in his legs.

"Rods that run down where my bone marrow would be in each of my tibias," Giroux explained.

Giroux's legs were badly broken nearly two years ago in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan. It happened November 5th, 2009 as then-Lieutenant Giroux led his Stryker vehicle platoon back from a resupply mission.

"I opened my eyes and there was a burning Stryker on top of me and my legs underneath it," Giroux said.

NPR's Tom Bowman just happened to be there that day and recorded the aftermath as a gun battle raged.

"One of the wounded is Lt. Brian Giroux who was riding in the back of the Stryker when it flipped over leaving him partially trapped seven feet deep and some 28 feet across. Giroux has two broken bones in his leg."

Giroux recalls looking down and seeing his foot facing backwards. He wondered if his legs could even be saved. But he was lucky. Two other soldiers in the Stryker vehicle that day were killed: Specialists Aaron Aamot and Gary Gooch.

Giroux was evacuated and eventually sent home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord for treatment. He endured a dozen surgeries and a dangerous bone infection. He was in a wheelchair and then on crutches.

But his wife Kacie swears he never once complained.

"He wasn't going to sit on the couch and just throw a pity party," she said. "And even if he was hurting you couldn’t tell."

Instead, Giroux set his mind to two things: his physical recovery and plotting his future. He and Kacie have a six-year-old daughter.

"You kind of have to look at yourself and say 'alright now where do I go, what can I do to better my life?'" Giroux said. "There's a reason I lived, there's a reason I came back and whether that's a spiritual or religious belief you have or just fate itself it's really about self-evaluation of your current situation and moving forward."

So, he started taking online Spanish lessons. He built a deck – while still on crutches – and installed wood floors in their house. Then Giroux applied to St. Martin's University in Lacey to get his MBA. This spring he graduated.

Thurston Community TV captured the moment the once wheelchair-bound soldier walked across the stage.

There's something else you need to know about Capt. Brian Giroux and his experience in combat. The platoon he led took the most losses of any in the 5th Stryker Brigade. Eleven of the 35 soldiers he took to Afghanistan were killed. Seven of them in a single incident just nine days before he was blown up.

Think of it: you're a 26-year-old officer in charge of a group of even younger enlisted men and they're getting killed left and right.

"It was tough, but at the same time it was a challenge, it was a challenge to pick myself up, to rebound, to be the example to show my guys 'hey it's been tough, it's been hard but let's get back on the horse, let's keep riding and finish this thing out.'"

I ask him if he's Superman.

Giroux says no. He admits that in private he shed tears and once home experienced nightmares and anxiety. But unlike so many others, nothing debilitating or lasting.

In fact, like a lot of people in the Army, he has little patience for soldiers who return from a tough combat deployment and turn to alcohol or drugs or violence or risk-taking. He's seen it happen with some of his own soldiers.

"And it's sad because I look at some of those guys and I like a lot of them, I served with them and I hate to see the stuff that’s happened to them happen to them."

He continued, "But at the same time it's not the Army's fault, it's not their leadership's fault. You kind of just have to answer for your actions."

He adds that most of the soldiers he served with in Afghanistan from his battalion are doing well.

"The guys that implode on themselves aren't necessarily the norm. They're just the guys that for some reason -- I don't want to say gave up on themselves -- didn't stop and assess where they were and come up with a plan."

Giroux's plan – when he began his MBA program – was to leave the Army. Because of his injury he's limited in what he can do. But he actually likes he's current desk job, so he's changed his mind – he's staying in at least for now.

He says his new business degree will come in handy whether he's in the military or in the civilian world.

On the web:

NPR - "A Familiar Enemy For Platoon In Afghanistan":
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120314837