Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 11, 2012

Northern People: Troops at home rally for injured soldier


TRAVERSE CITY — Lt. Col. Terry Hawn received the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and an Army commendation for valor in 2010 for his service in the Iraq war, but his battles weren't over when he returned home.

He had to fight the Army Warrior in Transition Unit at Rock Island, Ill., to get needed surgery for a 2010 rotator-cuff injury. The medical unit wanted to put Hawn, 54, on a two-year wait list at a veterans hospital.

Three Traverse City doctors and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's office in Traverse City helped Hawn win that skirmish.

Hawn first enlisted in the Army in 1982 and has spent a total 29 years in the Army and Army Reserves. His primary duty in the Army was flying AH-64 Apache advanced combat helicopters.

In 2010, however, he was on special assignment as commanding officer of a 48th Military History Detachment unit in the 1st Infantry Division to collect data and conduct hundreds of interviews with soldiers and officers to create a complete historical record of the 1st Infantry's work in Operation New Dawn.

The shoulder injury was one of several he received during a July 9, 2010, rocket attack in Basrah, Iraq, while rescuing fellow soldiers from burning barracks — an effort that led to the Purple Heart and the Army valor commendation.

He hurt his right leg, heel and foot while breaking open doors to make sure everyone was out of the barracks. When his feet and legs gave out, he forced doors open with his shoulders, which had been injured two months before in a market bomb and indirect fire attack in Musayabib, Iraq. An earlier wound that required surgery also reopened and he received second-degree burns on his left ear.

"It was a bad day," he said.

According to Hawn, the Army's Rock Island medical unit and local doctors agreed in January 2011 to a community treatment plan to repair his leg, foot and other injuries first and then, when he no longer needed crutches, tackle the rotator-cuff injury. The unit reneged on the Traverse City shoulder surgery during a medical review six months ago. Hawn decided to protest the decision.

Podiatrist Dan Lathrop, orthopedic surgeon Brian Kerr and his primary care physician Lorah Wright wrote letters to Stabenow's office to protest the delay in shoulder surgery, saying a two-year wait for surgery could adversely affect Hawn's use of his shoulder.

Lathrop's Aug. 28 letter, one of three he wrote, pulled no punches.

"I believe that the decision to not allow Lt. Col. Hawn's required surgery is an example of medical mismanagement, potentially negatively affecting his future quality of life," he wrote.

He called it "a disservice" to a soldier who was wounded in action and is a Purple Heart medal recipient.

"The 'right' thing to do here is to ensure Lt. Col. Hawn is provided with the best possible medical care, as soon as possible to increase his chances for an overall positive outcome," Lathrop wrote.

"It is the least a grateful nation can do for him."

Stabenow contacted the Department of the Army Office of Congressional and Legislative Liaison and requested that Hawn's medical care and treatment for combat injuries in Iraq proceed. The Fort Knox medical evaluation center overruled the Rock Island decision, Hawn said.

On Oct. 29, the doctors, physical therapist and nurses gathered around Hawn's bed at 6:30 a.m. to wish him well before he was prepped for surgery. It may not be his last. He still has other injuries to his hip and left knee that require treatment.

Hawn said he has no quarrel with the Army's Warrior in Transition Program overall. He called his treatment at the medical evaluation center at Fort Knox, Ky., "fantastic." He does not say the same for the Rock Island unit.

"If a lieutenant colonel is treated this way, then I feel sorry for the average soldier," he said.

For Hawn, the heroes of this story are Wright, Lathrop, Kerr, orthopedic surgeon Norman Licht and physical therapist Josh Baldwin. They helped mend his Achilles tendon, ruptured right knee ligaments and torn knee pad.

"I feel that they gave me my life back," he said.