Face of Defense: Wounded Warrior Keeps Serving
By Army Spc. Crystal Hudson
U.S. Division North
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Oct. 6, 2011 Army Sgt. Aaron Manis, a human resources specialist with 4th Infantry Division’s 101st Human Resources Company, calmly walks the halls of U.S. Division North’s main building here, hoping to share his positive attitude with everyone he passes.
Army Sgt. Aaron Manis works at his desk at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq, Sept. 7, 2011. Manis returned to active duty after being injured in Iraq in 2006. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Crystal Hudson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"He is a quiet professional with a strong work ethic who completes the mission," said Army Capt. Johnny Jun, human resources operations officer.
Manis is discreet about what he has experienced during his 10-year Army career. Most soldiers would never know the noncommissioned officer helping them with their paperwork was seriously injured during his last tour in Iraq.
On Aug. 7, 2006, Manis’ life was changed forever. He was an infantryman then, and he and his team were on a patrol in Baghdad when they got called to another area to check out a possible threat. After finding nothing unusual there, they loaded up to head out.
Manis popped into the gunner's hatch and turned to the rear of the vehicle to make sure it was clear. "There was a guy 150 feet away, and he decided he wanted to be a sniper and tried to take me out," he said.
The bullet went in on the right side of Manis' face near his eye and exited there. "I never lost consciousness," he said. "It felt like a big rock being thrown at the side of [my] face."
He recalls putting his hand to his face, and looking at his hand covered in blood. He then dropped down into the vehicle and let the vehicle commander know he was hit.
"The medic came, and he performed first aid," Manis said. "There is not really much that you can do but put a bandage on it."
He remembers trying to soothe the other soldiers in the vehicle with jokes so they would not worry about the incident.
Manis was evacuated to Germany for treatment, and eventually transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with the hope of repairing the damage to his right eye. "When the bullet entered, the force and the heat of the round forced the retina to scrunch up," he explained.
Doctors at Walter Reed did all they could to help restore the vision he lost, but the damage was too extensive, and Manis is blind in his right eye.
"My wife was heartbroken. I had to calm her down," he said. "It is just something that happens. It comes with the territory."
Manis spent six months in recovery at Walter Reed, and admits going through a dark time there.
"I accepted it,” he said. “I am the one who signed up to be an infantryman. That was the only way that I could heal -- by accepting."
Manis said the soldiers he encountered at Walter Reed and in his warrior transition unit are the best group of soldiers he has ever met.
"I will never forget the heroes I worked with that helped me out in my time of need, and all the friends I've made since then," he said. From Walter Reed, Manis went to Fort Campbell, Ky., to begin his medical board process. He was recommended for reclassification and became a human resources specialist.
"Sergeant Manis' personal experience in the Army casualty reporting process provides him a unique knowledge base, which bolsters his abilities to lead a critical mission," Jun said. He added that Manis is a living example of the Army Warrior Ethos -- he placed the mission first, he never accepted defeat, and he never quit.
Manis draws from his experience in the warrior transition unit to apply that knowledge to his leadership style.
"I took one thing from the WTU: every soldier is unique," he said. "Two people might have the same injury on paper, but it is not the same injury to them." One soldier may be able to handle the injury really well, he explained, while the other may struggle with it.
Manis' decision to return to active duty after his injury enables him to bring combat experience to his current position. He sets a positive example for all of the soldiers he encounters, Jun said.
"You don't have to be wounded or, sadly, lose your life in combat to be a hero,” Manis said. “Just wear that uniform, and serve your country, and do it the right way. You will be a hero."