CLARK — A 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier from Clark was wounded when his unit was ambushed Sunday in Afghanistan.
Specialist Joshua Lee Ben, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, was unconscious as of Tuesday evening at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He was airlifted there from an Army hospital in Germany on Tuesday afternoon.
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Ben had one leg amputated and sustained injuries to the groin and abdomen. He is in critical but stable condition and is expected to remain hospitalized for at least a year, said his mother, Kathy Sharp.
Ben, a Sturgeon High School graduate, was one of 12 soldiers assigned to the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment patrolling a village southwest of Kabul when the unit came under fire. An estimated 50 to 75 Taliban insurgents, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, ambushed the paratroopers, the Fayetteville, N.C., Observer reported.
They had been out walking, unprotected by their armored Humvee, Sharp said. “They’re always out looking for the insurgents.”
Ben’s wife, Tayza Ben, received the first call from the military about the incident Sunday at their home in Fort Bragg, N.C. Tayza learned that Ben had taken “an extensive amount of fire,” Sharp said. She was told by Ben’s sergeant that her husband’s condition was not very serious, but the family soon learned Ben was badly injured.
“The actual situation was much worse than they originally thought,” Sharp said.
Ben was initially evacuated to Bagram Airfield in Bahrain where “they patched him up as best they could” before flying him to an Army hospital in Germany, Sharp said. He underwent seven hours of surgery, “just cleaning up his wounds” and removing the shrapnel that pierced his body, before being transported to Washington.
Because Ben has remained unconscious, Sharp said, “He absolutely does not know that a leg has been amputated.”
Sharp learned her son had been injured this weekend in a call from Tayza.
In the Fall of 2005, Sharp answered a different call. This time, the voice on the line was her son’s, telling her that he was going to enlist.
“It’s not a phone call a mom wants,” Sharp said. “But at the same time, it didn’t surprise me.” Ben has always been patriotic, she said, adding that since 9/11 he often talked about going to fight the Taliban.
Ben was active at Sturgeon High School. His mother said he was homecoming king and vice president of his class during his senior year. In August of 2006, less than six months before he deployed, he married Tayza, with whom he attended grade school.
The U.S. Army will provide flights to Washington for Sharp and Tayza.
Families across mid-Missouri have been touched by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pat Wilson helps run the Columbia Military Family Support Group. More than 100 families have been involved with the group.
Wilson said community support is extremely important in such situations.
“Whoever comes into contact with the family should be prepared to give them as much latitude as possible,” Wilson said. “Anything that can be done to allow that family to tend to the business of their injured soldier should be done.”
Sharp, an administrative assistant at the Missouri School of Journalism, has already received offers of frequent flyer miles and hotel rewards from friends, and the Army has kept the family updated, providing them with an 800 number they can call at any hour of the day. “The first time I called they actually patched me through to Afghanistan, to Bahrain,” Sharp said.
The Fisher House Foundation could provide additional support. The group donates homes near Army medical centers to members of injured soldiers’ families for the duration of their recovery. In that environment, families can support each other through the process of healing and rehabilitation, Wilson said.
Despite her son’s critical injuries, Sharp said she does not feel alone in her experience.
What does bother her, though, is that “So many people have said, ‘Well, at least he’s not in Iraq.’ They think (Afghanistan is) a safer place.”
No civilian or Taliban casualties were reported, according to the Fayetteville Observer.