OIF Blinded Serviceman An Inspiration to All

by 1st Lieutenant Cody West Joint Base Balad, Iraq

Captain Joe Bogart, wounded in 2006, returned to Iraq for another tour of duty earlier this year as a legally blind soldier. Photo courtesy of Lieutenant West.
Captain Joe Bogart, wounded in 2006, returned to Iraq for another tour of duty earlier this year as a legally blind soldier. Photo courtesy of Lieutenant West.

What is the Warrior Ethos and what does it mean?  For members of the 5th Engineer Battalion, or "Fightin' Fifth," the Warrior Ethos is the embodiment of everything that is good about our Nation and our Army.

It is about strength of character and a will to win, about selflessly serving a greater goal or ideal and being part of a team, and about facing tremendous challenges and never quitting. It is also about being a soldier.

Today our military is deployed around the world. Soldiers and their families face many challenges and continuous sacrifice. Soldiers of the Fightin' Fifth are often asked, "Why do you do it?" For most, the answer is as simple as, "Because I am a soldier, it is my duty, and I embody the Warrior Spirit." 

Understanding this answer often isn't as simple as it was for those providing it, especially for those not in the military and those perhaps not as familiar with the meaning of the Warrior Ethos.

Therefore, for us in the Fightin' Fifth, it becomes convenient to use a real world example. Today, in our ranks, we have many standout soldiers. One in particular exemplifies this spirit. His name is Joe Bogart. Joe happened to attend the BVA 62nd National Convention in Albuquerque in August of 2007 as a participant in your Operation Peer Support program.

Joe started out his Army service as an enlisted soldier. After several years and having earned the rank of Staff Sergeant, he made a decision to attend Officer Candidate School and become an officer. During his first assignment with the 5th Engineer Battalion, he served as a platoon leader in the 2nd Platoon of Bravo Company.

"Bittersweet" is often used to describe a platoon's last mission on the battlefield. On the sweet side of this last mission comes a sense of accomplishment and pride, accompanied by the anticipation of making it home safely to loved ones. On the bitter side, there is apprehension and a foreboding of loss for the strong bonds that form between soldiers who have worked so closely together in a dangerous and stressful environment.

As the mission is completed, a brotherhood comes to an end. In October of 2006, the Soldiers of Bravo Company 5th Engineer Battalion were at that point. They were changing out with the unit sent to replace them and completing their last combat missions. Second Lieutenant Joe Bogart was the platoon leader for the 2nd Platoon Bravo Company 5th Engineer Battalion, which had been performing route clearance missions in Baghdad since November 2005. Route Clearance Platoons are Combat Engineers who search for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to eliminate and help keep the roads safe for Coalition Forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people.

On the morning of October 6, the 2nd Platoon was completing its last mission when, at approximately 1100 hours, an IED consisting of four 155 millimeter artillery rounds detonated on the passenger side of the fourth vehicle in the platoon's patrol. The rounds exploded four feet away from where 2nd Lieutenant Bogart sat in his command vehicle.

As Joe now says, "sometimes you find the IEDs and sometimes they find you."  He was hit with shrapnel that was an inch and a half long and which had a jagged edge on one side. It was a small but devastating chunk of steel. The shrapnel penetrated at the edge where the window and door meet. His driver, gunner, and interpreter sustained shock and blast concussions.

Joe describes his injuries and some of the medical treatment as follows:

 "My forehead was fractured in several places above the left and right eye. The upper orbital bone on the right eye was destroyed, my nose was flattened against the Blue Force Tracker Screen which was located in front of me inside the vehicle, my cheek bones were both fractured, and my upper palate under my nose and above the roof of the mouth was fractured. I have titanium mesh in my right orbit above the right eye socket as well as in my forehead and in my nose.

The medical evacuation helicopter arrived on site 22 minutes after the explosion. Joe was evacuated to and eventually woke up at Forward Operating Base Anaconda, currently known as Joint Base Balad located 32 miles north of Baghdad. Joint Base Balad at the time had the most diverse group
of physicians able to handle the trauma Joe had experienced.

It has been two years, five surgeries, and one prosthetic eye since Joe was wounded in action that October morning in 2006 during his first tour in Iraq. Today, he is legally blind with a prosthetic right eye and the most amazing, inspirational, and humbling part of this story is that he is now Captain Joe Bogart, back in the fight and selflessly serving his nation proudly in Iraq. He remains a member of the Fightin' Fifth Engineer Battalion and is currently serving as the Executive Officer of Headquarters Company.

The process to keep Joe in the Army, let alone allow him to deploy to Iraq, seemed insurmountable. His Warrior Ethos, together with the support of his family, friends, and numerous senior leaders, all made it possible.

Joe credits the doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for saving some of his eyesight. While legally blind, his "good" eye still sees 20/40 with glasses. When it came down to the final decision, it was Joe who would not accept defeat, Joe who never quit, and Joe who fought passionately to continue his service in the Army and deploy with his Battalion once again.

Joe was offered military retirement, along with opportunities to stay engaged with soldiers and pursue a civilian career. Despite the attraction, the decision to fight to continue his military service was an easy one: He simply saw it as his duty, and it was what he felt he had to do.

Says Joe:

"I have something to prove to myself. I have to prove that I am not a coward, that I am not scared of getting hurt, and that the guy on the other end of that IED didn't get me, and that Joe Bogart is still here. Additionally, the influence and support I received from my wife, fellow soldiers, and leaders were absolutely critical and enabled me to do what I felt I needed to do."

When Joe is asked to give advice, he has a message:

"Don't forget what you learned. Wear the protective gear you are issued. Getting blown up and walking away isn't fun. It means you were lucky. Getting wounded isn't glorious or cool; it freaking hurts, and continues to hurt for the rest of your life. But you deal with the pain both physically and emotionally. A Purple Heart isn't an award to strive for but is something the military gives you when you get wounded and you pay a price that you didn't plan on paying or ever hope to pay. It’s a price that you don't even know. We all sacrifice for the good of our nation. It’s just that some of us have the scars on the outside."

As Headquarters Company Executive Officer, it is business as usual for Captain Bogart. He manages all administrative and logistic support for the company and oversees the operational employment of the battalion's medical support, religious support, and battalion leadership's personal security detachment. He ensures that physical training is a part of the daily schedule and recently competed in and finished the Army ten-miler road race on Joint Base Balad on October 5.

Joe plans to stay in the Army with the intent to attend the Captain's Career Course and to later command an Engineer Company.

Joe Bogart is a soldier who exemplifies the Warrior Ethos. He shows us what being a soldier is all about each and every day. Joe has been to hell and back and in some respects will live with a bit of hell for the rest of his life. But with Joe you would never know it. He never complains, he is always positive, and he goes out of his way to make others feel that they are part of the team.

Joe even makes the most of his prosthetic eye. Unfortunately, he can't use it to see but instead uses it to convey what is important to him by affixing the American Flag and Engineer Castle to it. Captain Joe Bogart doesn't know the meaning of self-pity.

This soldier, husband, and father is an inspiration to us all. Thankfully, we have citizens and soldiers like Joe Bogart.
Lieutenant Cody Rachelle West is a platoon leader and Public Affairs Officer in the 5th Engineer Battalion, and is stationed with Captain Bogart at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The article was previously printed in the Expeditionary Times, a military publication of the 3rd Electronic Security Command at Joint Base Balad.