Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Grenade attack victim wishes he could return to war

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

U.S. Air Force Capt. Mark Wisher, the Northern Kentuckian injured during a grenade attack carried out by a member of his own unit in Kuwait, is back home in Tennessee, comfortable but not content.

Air Force Capt. Mark Wisher and his wife Tara in a family photo
| ZOOM |
The 29-year-old Florence native is recovering from severe internal injuries and thankful to be back with his wife, Tara, at their home in Clarksville, Tenn., just outside the Army base at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Yet Wisher, an F-16 fighter pilot trained to guide airstrikes from the ground for advancing troops, is itching to get back into the action.

"It's good to be home," Wisher said Monday by phone in his first interview since returning to the country Sunday. He spent nearly two weeks recovering at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

"But the hardest part about this whole thing is being away from the guys" in his military unit, he said. "I was with 22 other Air Force guys, and they have pushed north into Iraq. I don't know where they are for sure, but I'm guessing they are close to Baghdad. But because of what happened, I was left behind. It's like not being able to play in the big game."

Though doctors have told him recovery and rehabilitation from injuries to his abdomen, leg and arm will take three to six months, Wisher said he wants to be back on duty much sooner.

"I'm determined to be back in two months," he said. "I'm not much for sitting around. I'm ready to get back to normal."

"That's his self-determination," Wisher's father, Jerry Wisher of Florence, said of his son's tenacity. "Some would call it stubbornness. I guess he gets that from me."

Wisher was injured in one of the most unexplainable acts of the war with Iraq.

U.S. Army Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar, 32, a soldier from the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, has been charged with two counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder under military law in the March 23 attack on Wisher and other servicemen.

Wisher was one of 14 servicemen injured in the attack. Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., and Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, of Boise, Idaho, were killed. Because the incident is still under investigation, Wisher can say little about what happened that night in the Kuwaiti desert. But he did call it "a terrorist attack, the kind of terrorism we are trying to keep from our homeland."

Though he flew combat missions last year over Afghanistan, Wisher was attached to the 101st Airborne as an Air Force liaison officer. His job was to work with Army field commanders, directing airstrikes on targets in Iraq.

He was asleep in his tent when the grenade went off. It took the life of his bunkmate, Stone.

A dozen pieces of shrapnel from the grenade tore into Wisher's right side, injuring his arm and leg. One piece that Wisher described as a "golden BB" entered his abdomen and inflicted the most severe damage, collapsing his right lung, lacerating his liver and ripping a hole in his diaphragm. Surgery was required to remove the shrapnel and repair his organs.

"They cut me open from my belly button to my collarbone," Wisher said. "But I still feel fortunate. I have all my limbs and I'm walking around, although at this point, it's more shuffling around.

Wisher's wife, Tara, who grew up in Crittenden in Grant County, and his parents, Jerry and Marilyn Wisher, flew to Germany and were able to spend time with him at the hospital.

"Tara came (five days) after I was hurt," he said. "Seeing her walk in that room just made all the difference about how I felt. She is my soul mate. She keeps me strong. It was great to see her."

Letters written by students at Northern Kentucky schools who read about his injuries in the newspaper also lifted his spirits. The letters came from two schools Wisher attended while growing up in Florence - St. Paul's Elementary School and St. Henry High School - as well as Walton-Verona Elementary in Boone County and Woodfill Elementary in Fort Thomas.

"The letters were great," he said. "They brightened a lot of painful days for me. Even though it hurt when I laughed, I couldn't stop laughing at some of the letters. They really helped me get through all of this."

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

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