Military News

Thursday, May 14, 2015

'Steel Will': Iraq war veteran shares story of loss, resilience

by Senior Airman John Nieves Camacho
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

5/14/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C.  -- "I am a man who has lived through hell. It is hard to share this experience. The carnage. The devastation. The loss. But I will do it. Because I will always know the horrors of war," wrote retired Army Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris in his autobiography. "I will tell you what an explosion does to you on the outside. And I will tell you what an explosion does to you on the inside. And I will demonstrate what it means to live fearlessly, with a clear understanding of the grace that can redeem mayhem."

War is something Harris said he'll never forget, but instead of letting his experiences cripple him, he's turned them into strengths to help build his 'Steel Will'.

Recently, Harris visited Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to participate in a National Prayer Breakfast and share his story with members of Team Seymour.

"It's a true honor to be in the presence of a great American hero," said Senior Airman Matthew Glover, 4th Security Forces Squadron patrolman. "It's truly a blessing to have him come here and tell us his inspiring story."

During his presentation, Harris talked about his experiences before enlisting in the Army and those afterward.

Harris was born into a family with roots of military service and, according to him, he always knew he wanted to be a soldier serving his country.

During his stint in the Army, Harris deployed twice including a tour to southern Baghdad. While traveling in an armored vehicle, Harris' team was struck by an improvised explosive device, which killed three of his best friends and wounded the driver. Harris survived, but lost both his ears, the tip of his nose and three fingers. He also suffered third degree burns on 35 percent of his body and sustained multiple bone fractures.

His injuries were so severe that he was placed in a medically induced coma for 48 days. Afterward, he spent nearly three years recovering and undergoing physical therapy at the burn unit of Brooklyn Medical Center in San Antonio. More than 75 surgeries later, Harris still hasn't fully recovered.

"The worst thing that ever happened to me in my eyes, was that I was burnt to a crisp," Harris said. "It took three years of recovery, but I did it. And here I am today, a better person. And I'm ready to keep on moving forward."

Harris also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and was medically retired from the Army in 2010.

"Everything in life is a gift," Harris said. "Sometimes it may not be the gift you want, but you realize that your challenges are a new beginning."

Today, Harris uses his story to inspire veterans, wounded warriors and other groups around the country, as well as raise awareness about PTSD. Harris said that the biggest thing he wanted Airmen to take away from his visit was to remember that they are not alone.

"There is a network of people out there that are willing and ready to help," Harris said. "You can overcome anything in your life. I didn't think I could, and there were a couple of times that I wanted to give up, but I kept pushing forward and was able to overcome."

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