By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2009 - A soldier who was wounded in Iraq is looking for closure for his injuries and a new starting point for his life this week as part of a team attempting to scale North America's highest peak. Army Spc. David Shebib -- along with three other wounded veterans, two peer mentors and a guide -- set out June 1 to climb Mount McKinley, also known as Denali because it's located in Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve.
Shebib, a combat medic, said he "got his bell rung pretty good" Dec. 28, 2006, when a homemade bomb exploded in his face. He was serving in Hawr Rajab, Iraq, when the blast occurred. It cut his carotid artery, causing a small stroke, and caused a traumatic brain injury.
"[It] blew a hole in my eardrum, broke my collarbone and [a] finger, and smashed a few teeth out," Shebib said. He also suffered a scarred retina, soft-tissue damage to his face and torso, and burns on his arms and hands.
Shebib was in a coma for five days and in the intensive care unit for 14 days at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Therapy to help with his TBI lasted for two years, and he's still going through procedures to lessen the scars on his face. His doctors told him that the average person would not have survived his injuries, he said, and that he likely would be paralyzed on his left side from the stroke.
But the worst of the doctors' predictions never came true, and Shebib vowed not to let his injuries prevent him from doing the things he wanted to do, including staying on active duty.
While he has kept that promise, he admits the experience has affected his life, though he's managed to keep up with his favorite activities, such as riding motorcycles.
"I own a Suzuki DRZ400, a Ducati 900SS and a Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe," he said. "Everybody thought I would slow down, but for someone who wants to stay in the Army after everything I have been through, not really."
That's evidenced by his determination to climb Denali.
"I believe it would be the ultimate challenge for disabled war veterans to summit Denali," he said. "It is a way of bringing us closure from the wounds of war and a starting point on the rest of our lives."
The team making the climb, which has been dubbed "Operation Denali," left for base camp June 1. The trek is expected to be complete on June 22, though the veterans have more than the usual difficulties to face as they ascend the mountain. The veterans will deal with individual challenges based on their own injuries, including the use of prosthetics while climbing. All of those on the team will deal with the extreme temperatures.
Shebib is stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, but soon will transfer to Bamberg, Germany, as a combat medic with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.