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Marines wounded in Iraq heal together

From Alex Quade
CNN

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Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, his head bandaged, is lifted off the battlefield into a helicopter.

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CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (CNN) -- At a first-of-its-kind barracks at Camp Lejeune, Marines wounded in Iraq share their recoveries with the one group of people who understand -- each other.

They live at Maxwell Barracks, named for Lt. Col. Timothy Maxwell, who suffered a serious head wound in 2004 and almost died near Iskandiriya, a city in Iraq's notorious "Triangle of Death."

When the injured Maxwell got back to the United States, he asked his superiors if he could use a building to help his wounded comrades get through the final phases of recovery. The Marines at Maxwell Barracks go through this battle together rather than being sent back to their units.

The lieutenant colonel is still an active duty Marine, and his closely cropped hair reveals a scar that runs in a circular path from his left ear to his forehead. He struggles slightly with his speech, yet he still speaks with the authority of a senior officer.

"The transition from being in your unit, being wounded, going through hospitals, and then either phasing back to their original unit, or back to civilian world, this would be the last stop," Maxwell said.

Camp Lejeune is a huge base in eastern North Carolina that is home to tens of thousands of Marines in II Marine Expeditionary Force, 2nd Marine Division and other units. Many go to Iraq and some come back victims of roadside bombs, shootings or accidents.

At Maxwell Barracks, wounded Marines deal with change-of-life issues and get individual counseling. Maxwell sometimes still works with a speech pathologist.

One of Maxwell's close aides is Joseph Roe, a Navy hospital corpsman who helped save Maxwell's life in Iraq before Roe was wounded by a roadside bomb days later. They understand the rare bond of the wounded.

"These kids go home and there's nobody around to talk to," Roe said. "Your family doesn't understand. Your friends back home don't understand. We do.

"No matter if you're Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Once you've been hurt, and you're a wounded warrior you understand."

It was more than a year ago that Maxwell and Roe were wounded. Maxwell's head was hit by shrapnel from a mortar round. For a while he was in and out of consciousness. While doctors and nurses watched over him, the hospital he was in was shelled.

His path from the battlefield back to the states lasted just a few days. Maxwell was evacuated first to a field hospital north of Baghdad before he was flown to Germany, then the United States.

A month after the mortar attack, he was at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Richmond, Virginia, well into his path toward recovery.

He now works with Marines at Lejeune who spend a short period there adjusting to their new lives.

"They come here, stay for just a couple of days and see other Marines are wounded and how far they are in life," Maxwell said. "Instead of going home with their mom and dad and wondering, I wonder what it means to get shot in the leg. I don't know what that means in three months. Here, he'll see."

The painful recovery is also hard on the families of the wounded. Maxwell's wife, Shannon, helped found a support group for spouses of wounded Marines.

"The largest thing we try to get through is the uncertainty," she said.

Maxwell's children also worry about what could happen. His son is afraid still that his father might die in the middle of the night. The officer said the families have it worse than he does.

Maxwell wonders if it was fate that led him to being one of the wounded, and the one who pushed for a place to heal with others with similar fates.

"I guess I look at it sort of like maybe this happened to me on purpose," he said. "I'm not a very religious guy, but maybe I got wounded so I would do this for a living."

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