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thedrifter
01-27-06, 02:05 PM
Tacoma, WA - Friday, January 27, 2006
Once more to war, with no regrets
MICHAEL GILBERT; The News Tribune
Last updated: January 27th, 2006 07:42 AM (PST)

On Lt. Damon Armeni’s last trip to Iraq, they weren’t sure he’d survive the medical evacuation flight home.

Shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade had ripped into his abdomen. He lost his spleen and sections of his colon and intestines.

He spent long stretches in the hospital to fight infection. Doctors broke four of his toes and fused the bones together to counter the nerve damage that was causing them to curl up like a claw.

And now he’s getting ready to go back to the war zone.

He wants to do it. Ever since he was a little kid, he’s dreamed of being an Army officer, a battalion commander.

“I have a hard time accepting that our enemies could stop me from achieving that,” the 27-year-old Tacoma native said in an interview at his home at Fort Lewis. “As long as my family is supporting me, I’m going to keep trying.”

Armeni is one of more than 250 soldiers from the Army’s first Stryker brigade – the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Fort Lewis – to be wounded during the brigade’s year in Iraq in 2003-04. The 4,000-soldier force is due to return for another year in June or July.

Few were hurt as badly as Armeni.

His wife, Kim, and his parents, Dan and Sharon Armeni, nursed him through the last time. Kim and Sharon flew out to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to be there when the medevac flight got in from Germany. They hardly recognized him.

Kim faced the prospect of raising their son, Dalen, by herself. Now Dalen is 31/2, and he’s got a little sister, Brooke, born in November.

Kim and Damon met when they were students at Pacific Lutheran University. The first time they talked, he told her he was in the ROTC and was going to be a military man.

She remembers thinking that was too bad – it seemed he didn’t stand much of a chance with her.

But she managed to overcome her reluctance about dating a soldier.

“I signed on for this,” she said. “I married him knowing he’s a military guy.”

These days, the reaction is usually the same when old friends learn that Damon will be heading back to combat.

“People tell me I’m crazy for doing this again,” Kim said. “They say, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s hard to explain to people.

“It’s what we do. I’ve never had an issue about him going back. I’ve never had any doubt about him staying in. … It’s better to be married to someone who is happy in what they do.”

Sharon Armeni said she has been inspired by her daughter-in-law’s strength.

“I’ve realized through all this how much she really loves my son,” Sharon said. “That’s a great feeling.”

It will be worrisome enough when Damon goes back, she said.

But the Armenis’ other son, 23-year-old Bryce, is a Marine lance corporal also wounded in action, though not as seriously as Damon.

Bryce’s unit is due for a second tour. The brothers will likely be in the country at the same time – though not at the same location – for at least a couple of months.

“I don’t know if it’s worse having them both over there at the same time and getting it over with, or having Damon there and then seven months later, Bryce goes,” Sharon Armeni said.

“On the other hand, it’s a comfort knowing they’re close.”

Dan Armeni told his son he’d lived up to his obligations as a military officer, and that after what he’d been through, he’d have to answer to no one if decided he didn’t want face combat again.

“We had that conversation at Walter Reed,” said Dan, a retired Army officer and a Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran. “He was laying in that bed, 160 pounds, just skin and bones. That’s when he told me, ‘Dad, it’s just like driving a truck.’

“He said, ‘If I drove a truck off a cliff and survived, I’d probably go back to driving a truck again.’

“That seemed like a pretty good answer to me, and I’ve never broached the subject again,” Dan said.

Damon was recently promoted to captain and will pin on his new rank any day now. He is the executive officer in Crazyhorse Troop with 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment.

One of his bosses, the brigade’s operations officer Maj. Adam Rocke, said Damon Armeni’s recovery is remarkable, something that other soldiers look up to.

“His ability and motivation to overcome incredible odds is what sets Damon apart from others,” said Rocke, “and is why he will undoubtedly lead his soldiers with distinction during another year in Iraq.”

In the next few months, Damon says he and Kim will take a vacation in Hawaii. He says he’ll spend more time with his kids before he leaves this time.

But he won’t have second thoughts. Painful as his ordeal was, he loves his job. He believes he is good at it, and that his country needs him.

“I don’t want to see us fail,” he said. “But part of being successful, it seems to me, means staying there awhile.”

Ellie