Veterans Day is a time to remember the sacrifices made by those who served our country in the military. Some gave their time away from their families and jobs at home, some gave their lives and some gave up the future they had envisioned.
The Eldorado American Legion Sunday gave a plaque to Kevin C. Beam, the first Eldorado veteran to be a part of the Wounded Warrior Project — an organization that lends support to injured veterans.
Beam, a 15-year U.S. Army veteran, arrived in Afghanistan in 2004 and left in 2005 after being injured from a roadside bomb blast. In the years since he has lived with traumatic brain injury, had surgery for the flames that blew into his eyes, a spine collapse that left him 1 1/2 inches shorter, chronic migraines, light sensitivity that causes him to wear sunglasses indoors, deafness in one year from a rocket propelled grenade that blew up beside him and has post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I have 23 injuries labelled,” he said.
He also survived a bullet in the chest fired from an AK-47 rifle. He wore body armor which may have saved his life, but said his chest was bruised black from that trauma.
“I was telling the guys to spread apart and a guy was there and shot me in the chest. Needless to say that was an eye-opener,” he said.
He said he also came home with a parasite in his lung that he passed on to his son, though doctors caught it in time to cure it in his son. He lives with stage 3 kidney failure.
“I take 24 drugs daily,” he said.
Bean served as a sergeant in command of a group ranging from six to 14. He retired as a staff sergeant.
He has seen some of the worst combat a veteran will experience and never got used to the trauma of war violence.
“When we just started going into Afghanistan our rules of engagement were ‘if you feel threatened.’ Well, who didn’t feel threatened. You are in a country that is the highest mined area since Korea. The Russians mined everywhere,” he said.
Bean was known as the best shot in his group and often had sniper duty.
“I didn’t go to school for it, it’s just I was the best shot,” he said.
“Environment, air, moisture, everything has an outcome on the bullet’s trajectory depending on how far you wanted to shoot.”
Though he was well-trained and completed his missions successfully, each mission carried with it fear.
“When you do get called on a mission the hair on the back of your head stands up. You know somebody’s going to die,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - The violence was one thing. Survival the elements was another.
“We were so far out we would run out of food and water. We never knew when we would get resupplied,” he said.
Bean joined the Wounded Warrior Project in Texas and the rules took some getting used to.
“There is a squad leader for four or five people. The squad leader tends to your needs, makes sure you go to your appointments and have got everything you need for the day,” Bean said.
“We call each other pretty much every hour during the weekday and during the weekend check in with the squad leader every four hours.
“Since I was in charge of everybody it kind of made me feel like a private again.”
Bean said the doctors at the VA Medical Center has informed him he will not be able to work again which he said is sad considering the government has invested so much in his training and the training of other injured soldiers in his same situation.
He went through Army Ranger training, though was not selected as a Ranger.
“It was a lot of pain, but you learned a lot and that’s what I care about. No matter what you did you are going to learn something every day. Slept in the dirt, no shower. It was only a month long, but it was a lot of fun,” Bean said.
He went through air assault school and learned to jump off a helicopter with a rope and learned spy rigging. He sailed across the treetops dangling from a rope attached to a helicopter.
He was dropped into the ocean and had to swim a mile to shore. He was taught how to make flotation devices from his clothing and rucksack.
“I did the best I could with what I had. There was nothing I was told to do I didn’t accomplish,” he said.
For all he has learned from his training and experience, he struggles with the idea he will not be able to put much of it to practical use.
“It’s sad. You’re 38 years old and they tell you you’re done,” he said.