HER SON, SGT. TIMOTHY GUSTAFSON, 27, OF THE TENNESSEE NATIONAL GUARD, WAS WOUNDED MONDAY WHEN A HUMVEE HE WAS RIDING IN WAS STRUCK. SHIRLEY SAID SHE DIDN'T KNOW MANY DETAILS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED, BUT HER SON WOUNDED HIS FOOT.
--LEAVENWORTH ( KANS.) TIMES, JAN. 26, 2005
His fear kicked in only after he knew he wasn't going to die. Tim had heard the stories: wives who couldn't handle their men returning broken, who saw weakness and left. Early in their courtship, in 2002, Janice had suggested a four-mile run around her family's small ranch outside Paola, Kans., and what sold Tim on her was the moment that she picked up the pace going uphill. Janice attacked the road. She loved to compete, and they finished together, stride for stride. But now, on his first stop back from Iraq, at the military hospital in Germany, his head swimming from painkillers, Tim couldn't stop worrying. I'm never going to walk. I'm not the same man. She's not going to stay.
On Jan. 24, on patrol with the 1st Squadron, 278th Regimental Combat Team, Gustafson was riding shotgun an hour east of Baghdad, making a routine check on an exposed length of oil pipeline. Some of the new, fully armored Humvees, the M1114s, were in use at Caldwell, the 278th's forward operating base in Iraq, but Gustafson's Wolfpack team was riding in an M1025, which is armored on the side, front and rear but not the bottom. For a week he had been plagued by a nagging dread and had kept tucking his feet under his seat, hoping for a bit more protection.
That morning his patrol drove over a stretch of dirt with one small section disguised by a fake tire tread. The mine was bound to two artillery shells, and the explosion blasted off the vehicle's front wheels and sent it rearing up. Gustafson's right foot plunged through the torn floor board, and when the Humvee slammed to the ground, his foot was crushed beneath the undercarriage.
A doctor told him the bones looked like the remains of a shattered candy cane. A military surgeon in Iraq amputated the foot but left the skin of the heel, because its thickness would make good padding for a stump. Gustafson was flown to Germany, where he endured cleanup surgery, and then on to the U.S., arriving at Walter Reed last Jan. 27. That night he dreamed that a pack of tiny wolves was chasing him up a tree; one bit his leg, and the sleeping Gustafson kicked his raw stump against the bedrail. He woke up drenched in sweat.
The next morning he saw Janice for the first time. "Are you going to leave me?" he asked.
She climbed into his bed. The nightmares stopped. "I didn't marry his leg," Janice says. It was Tim's head she worried about. Her father, Chuck Davenport, had served as an army medic for two years in Vietnam, returning in 1971 as a decorated veteran with a case of malaria and a uniform that drew epithets and gobs of spit from war protesters. He eventually became an abusive alcoholic, feared by his mother, wife and kids. It wasn't until the 1990s that doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. The PTSD and alcoholism fueled each other, and in 1997 Davenport had a hallucinatory breakdown. He thought his wife was trying to capture him. He raved that his daughter was a Vietnamese nurse. Hospitalized for a couple of weeks, he then spent three months in a rehab center but never shook the malaria or the bottle.
Gustafson underwent seven more operations, eventually losing the heel pad, ankle, shin and half his calf. About two weeks after he arrived at Walter Reed, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker stopped by his bed on a visit to the hospital. Gustafson told him his buddies were patrolling in inadequately armored Humvees while M1114s puttered around Caldwell. Within days, says Specialist Shane Carlson of the 278th, the Wolfpack was driving M1114s. "All of a sudden," Carlson says, "they started magically appearing."
Gustafson checked out of Walter Reed and into the Mologne House on Feb. 22, still heavily medicated. Janice was handed 21 prescriptions, including some for meds to deal with the side effects of his meds. He would eventually have to kick all the painkillers--Gabitril, Clonazepam and Percocet--but the toughest drug by far would be methadone, the substitute drug for heroin addicts.