Winchester native participates in Operation Proper Exit

Published 9:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2017

Winchester native was included in a special project provided an avenue of closure for service members wounded in the line of duty.

Cpl. Matthew Bradford (retired) recently participated in Operation Proper Exit, an initiative launched in 2009 for wounded war-fighters to return to theater as part of their personal recovery and to meet with currently deployed service members. OPE now includes Gold Star Family members in addition to wounded warriors.

Bradford, 31, is a Winchester native who joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2005. He was deployed to Haditha, Irag, in 2006. During that tour, he was injured on Jan. 18, 2007, by an IED. Injuries from the explosion resulted in Bradford losing his vision and movement in his right hand. He was also had amputations above his left knee and below his right knee.

Email newsletter signup

Today, Bradford is involved with the Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program  under the House of Representatives and strives to provide resources to help other veterans. He also hopes to use his story to inspire others.

Operation Proper Exit helps provide this closure through traveling to theater, sharing experiences and making connections within the military community.

Wounded service members and Gold Star Family members, participating in Operation Proper Exit, spoke about their experiences and fielded questions with Soldiers, Airmen and Marines currently stationed at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 5.

“They are both tragic events … a lot of the wounded are still somewhat positive because they are still here, but the Gold Star Family member is the wife, son, brother of someone who didn’t come home,” said Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, retired Army Ranger and Medal of Honor Recipient. “They now get to see what they went through … tell their story and see the brotherhood. To know that their family member or loved one was doing what they loved, around people that they loved as well.”

Petry was shot in both thighs and lost his arm below the elbow to an enemy grenade, May 26, 2008 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan.

“I try to share with them as much as I can, but I try to listen more, to who their family member was, what their experience was, not only in the military but what they were like outside of the military … I want to know any questions they have that I can possibly answer and as we create that bond and they ask more questions I am able to share with them more,” said Petry.

After telling their individual experiences, the official party opened up for a question and answer session followed by a meet-and-greet with those in attendance.

“Honestly, it’s just hanging out with troops. For me that’s the best kind of therapy there is,” said Staff Sgt. Luke Cifka, retired Army infantryman.  “One of the things you realize when you get out of the military is that’s what you miss the most, that camaraderie, and brotherhood. In the couple hours we’ve been here I’ve gotten to reconnect with that sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps.”

Cifka stepped on a pressure plate improvised explosive device May 31, 2013, Logar, Afghanistan, resulting in bilateral above-knee amputation.

In addition to personal growth and healing, OPE focuses on passing along information to the currently deployed warfighter.

“What I typically like to get across to the service members when I come out here is my actions, my recovery, resiliency, as well as say thanks to them and their family for their sacrifices, as well as a little bit of professional leadership development…they ask what recovery was like — they ask what we are doing now…a lot of these questions are great questions – we will never turn down any question — that’s when I get the biggest take away —during the question and answers,” said Petry.

“The leadership aspect, teaching your Soldiers what to do, if you get hurt…I had a very small team and after I got injured, that junior soldier is now in charge. So hopefully imparting a little bit of wisdom, of what happened to us — that would be my biggest goal,” said Cifka.