- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The last thing Pfc. David Mahlke remembers was flying forward in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he and five other soldiers were riding in about 50 miles from Baghdad.
Pfc. Mahlke doesn't remember his head hitting the Bradley's bulkhead, nor when his heart and breathing stopped. He can't recall surgeons cutting open his forehead and skull during the next three days to remove a blood clot on his brain.
With a half-moon-shaped scar above his hairline, Pfc. Mahlke, 19, was able to stand yesterday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as he pulled together the few details he knew about his injury. He faces at least six months of physical therapy to erase his blurred vision and correct his wobbly balance.
"I just started walking a week ago," he said.
Although most of the fighting has ended in Iraq, many soldiers such as Pfc. Mahlke are engaged in their own, private struggle of learning to walk again.
The military hospital in Northwest is a stop on their way home and the start of what for many is a long period of rehabilitation. Some are bedridden with broken backs, necks and head injuries. Others, such as Pfc. Mahlke, of Winona, Minn., are taking their first uneasy steps in physical therapy. Some are fighting just to sit up in bed.
Hoping to provide a brief respite, players from the Baltimore Orioles handed out autographed T-shirts and baseball caps yesterday to some of the 33 soldiers recovering at Walter Reed. Most were eager to talk to the players, even though few are Orioles fans.
That includes Sgt. Tarik Jackson, 28, of Miami.
"I watch you all the time, but I'm a Yankees fan," he told Orioles outfielder Gary Matthews Jr.
"You feel kind of removed from the real world in our job," Mr. Matthews said afterward. "To get a chance to see what people are dealing with makes it more real."
Sgt. Jackson, who was wounded twice in the arm, was part of the 507th Maintenance Company ambushed in Nasiriyah on March 23. Nine persons were killed that day and six captured. Among the prisoners of war was Pfc. Jessica Lynch, also recovering at Walter Reed.
Others were wounded performing more mundane tasks.
Spc. Kevin Maguire, 23, an engineer with the 3rd Infantry Division, was clearing trees with a bulldozer around Baghdad International Airport on April 5 to remove any cover for snipers. A tree limb fell on the bulldozer, breaking his neck.
Since then he's had two surgeries and "a lot of drugs" to kill the pain, passing through several field hospitals and a medical center in Germany before arriving at Walter Reed. He's scheduled to return home to St. Louis today.
Spc. Maguire can feel his legs but walks with a wobble. Doctors say he should recover full use of his legs, but he said physical therapy "has almost killed" him.
He was upbeat as he spoke from a chair next to his hospital bed, but his parents said recovery has taken them all through a wide range of emotions.
"He wasn't too happy this morning," said his father, Jim Maguire. "His mood is directly related to his Percocet intake." Percocet is a painkiller.
Down the hall, Sgt. Kenneth Dixon, 35, of Cheraw, S.C., considers it a victory that he was able to raise himself up on his elbows the other day. He can barely speak above a whisper, and a plastic brace keeps his back immobile as he tries to heal a broken spine.
Sgt. Dixon was with Pfc. Mahlke in the Bradley when it nose dived into the gulley. Sgt. Roderic A. Solomon, 32, was killed in the accident.
Letters from a Harlem elementary school where Sgt. Dixon's friend is a guidance counselor cover a bulletin board above his bed.
His wife, Lisa, stands near the bed. She is a soldier in the Army's 94th Maintenance Unit and says they can deal with his rehab
"He's alive," she said. "That's all that counts."

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