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Family Matters Blog: 'Real Warrior' Spreads Message of Hope

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2010 – I spoke with an amazing soldier the other day who managed to turn a brush with death into a message of hope for servicemembers and their families.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Joshua Mantz speaks with Iraqi children while on patrol near Sadr City, Iraq, about an hour before an enemy sniper attacked his unit and nearly killed him, April 21, 2007. A military medical team brought him back to life. Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

 

Three years ago, Army Capt. Joshua Mantz was serving his first deployment in Iraq. His unit had just completed a humanitarian mission in a remote village near Sadr City when they were diverted to another part of the area. Mantz and his comrade, Army Staff Sgt. Marlin Harper, were searching a suspicious vehicle when a sniper attacked.

The bullet pierced Sgt. Harper's left arm, exited out his chest and entered Capt. Mantz’s right thigh, severing his femoral artery.

Unaware of the severity of his injury, Capt. Mantz dragged Sgt. Harper to safety and began administering first-aid. As the medic ran over, Capt. Mantz passed out momentarily from the massive blood loss.

It was too late for Sgt. Harper, and Capt. Mantz was barely hanging on. His unit raced him to Forward Operating Base Loyalty, about 10 minutes away. He vividly remembers lying on a hospital bed in the clinic there.

 

Capt. Mantz knew he was dying. He felt the blood move from his legs to his stomach to his chest – a telltale sign of a catastrophic injury – but felt no fear. He recited the names of his mother and sisters in his head, over and over, and said a last prayer, "Please take care of them." He felt a deep peace, took one last breath and died. All faded to black.

But Capt. Mantz's story wasn't over. The medical team worked over him for 15 minutes to bring him back. He woke up two days later in the Green Zone, without any brain damage and with his leg intact.

He was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he physically recovered for the next four months. And that's also where his emotional healing began.

Clinical psychologists visited him several times a day, encouraging him to talk about what happened.

Capt. Mantz said talking early and often can help ward off the emotional impact of devastating events. "If you don't talk about it, you'll never be able to learn from it," he said. Most importantly, he said, it's vital to look back objectively. Otherwise, there's a tendency to self-blame, even when not at fault.

After just four months, Capt. Mantz fought to return to Iraq to rejoin his soldiers and find some closure for the events of that devastating day.

As he completed his tour, word of his brush with death spread, and he gained national attention upon his return to the States. While he was deeply grateful for the early medical intervention that saved his life, he wanted to bring to light the early psychological intervention that warded off long-term emotional issues.

He's since spoken to thousands of troops, offering a message of resilience, and to countless family members of lost loved ones, offering a message of hope.

To the troops, he stresses the importance of speaking early and often, and urges leaders to keep an eye out for signs of trouble in their troops. To families, he explains what those final moments of life were like for him.

One mother he met had lost her son to a roadside bomb. It had severed his legs, and he died shortly after. She worried that her son, who was a mountain climber, had lost his will to live the moment he lost his limbs. Capt. Mantz explained to her how the survival instinct had kicked in for him after he was wounded and how desperate he felt to live, no matter what the impact of the injury. He said he saw the closure in her eyes.

That moment, he said, was his first response to a personal question that had been nagging at him since his recovery: "Why am I still here?"

Capt. Mantz offered to have his story documented for the Real Warriors campaign in hopes of reaching even more people. The campaign is sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, and features stories of servicemembers who sought psychological treatment and continued successful military and civilian careers.

He offers a new twist to the campaign. Rather than stressing the importance of seeking help after experiencing emotional issues, he emphasizes the importance of early intervention as a preventive measure.

Capt. Mantz is due to deploy again, although he’s not sure if it will be to Iraq or Afghanistan. But in either case, he said, he's ready. And this time, he's giving himself another mission: to help his comrades deal with the stresses of war.

"I'm looking forward to it, especially knowing what I know about resilience," he said.

I have no doubt that Capt. Mantz will make as much of an impact there as he's made here with his message of hope.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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