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Old 11-29-2008, 03:46 AM
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Being Thankful

Rash of injuries challenge outlook of Green Bay soldier
'I'm thankful that I'm still alive'

By Paul Srubas
November 27, 2008

After being shot three times and surviving a double explosion, Sgt. Mark Meunier still manages to find room in his life for gratitude.

"I'm thankful that I'm still alive, that I can still move, that I have all my appendages even if they don't work right," said Meunier, 35, of Green Bay, a member of the National Guard and a former U.S. Marine. "I have a lot of fractures, injuries to my right knee, a torn ACL, injured shoulder. But it could've been worse."

Actually, it was worse. The double explosion two roadside bombs detonated almost simultaneously in Iraq in 2005 also left him with a traumatic brain injury and a level of rheumatoid arthritis that a doctor told him he'd never seen in anyone under age 80.

Meunier used to get 30 cluster headaches a day; collagen shots to his head have reduced those to about three a day.

"I've had three knee surgeries," he said. "I need a replacement, but they say I'm too young. They cut off my heel, moved it over and reattached it with screws. I have six feet of cadaver tendons in my leg and some in my right shoulder, with a nylon cord reattaching my bicep."

On his best days, Meunier estimates his pain level at 4 on a 10-point scale, but by the end of those days, he's back up to about a level 8. He has no expectations for improvement, nor does the former three-sport Neenah High School graduate expect to regain any of the ability that allowed him regularly to score a perfect 300 on the military's twice-a-year Personal Physical Fitness tests.

And those two explosions also triggered post-traumatic stress from something that happened to Meunier in the Persian Gulf War in the early '90s something that Meunier won't talk about.

But he can talk in detail about the horrors of being shot three times and blown up twice.

In the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Meunier took a bullet in the thigh after being in Iraq just three days.

Just a year later, during the U.S. peacekeeping operation in Somalia, Meunier took a shotgun blast to his right knee while doing house-by-house sweeps. In the back of a Humvee, fellow soldiers dug 12 pellets out of him. The remaining two pellets were removed during one of his more recent knee surgeries.

Three days after the shotgun attack, he was shot again, this time in the ankle with an AK47.

"The Marine Corps isn't like the National Guard," he said. "You just keep going."

Even after those injuries, Meunier was scoring 300s on his fitness test.

"I was always active, played football, basketball, track," he said. "I loved to run, I ran six miles every morning, did kayaking, mountain climbing, rappelling, hunting, fishing."

That all changed in 2005, when Meunier was out of the Marine Corps and in the Army National Guard.

"I joined the guard, because they never go anywhere," Meunier joked. "I hoped to do just training; I got called up right away."

His mission was to escort convoys of semis carrying supplies into Iraq, where they could be distributed to U.S. military bases. Meunier was team leader, directing three gun trucks that escorted an average of 60 semis per trip.

On the last of about 35 such missions, Meunier's truck fell far behind the convoy. While trying to catch up, the vehicle tripped a laser beam across the road the same kind of beam used on electric garage doors, Meunier said.

Breaking the beam set off an explosion that blew Meunier's vehicle into the air. An ambusher then fired a "shape charge" a coffee can filled with black powder and four pounds of copper that struck Meunier's door.

The truck, which caught fire, lost all four tires and had a 6-inch hole in the engine block.

All three occupants survived but are still dealing with their injuries.

Meunier remains on active duty and works days at the armory on Military Avenue. He is part of a relatively new program that allows injured soldiers to see civilian doctors in their hometowns instead of having to spend all their time at one of the major VA hospitals in the country.

Meunier expects to be medically discharged within the next few weeks.

"I don't want to get on disability all my life," Meunier said. "I'd go crazy."

He hopes to go to school to become an ultrasound technician. He and his wife of four years would also like to start a family, but they have some financial obstacles. They were halfway through a renovation project on their house on North Ashland Avenue before Meunier was injured. He can no longer do the work.

Nor can he get around the three-story home.

"I fall down at least three times a week," he said. "I need a ramp."

With the half-finished renovation and the poor housing market, their chances of selling are small, he said.

Meanwhile, he tries to remain active, working out on an elliptical trainer that he got through the VA. The more he does, the more recovery time involved, but to him, it's worth it.

"You can choose to sit and suffer, or you can live your life," he said. "It's true: some days I just hurt so bad I don't want to move, and yeah, I'll lie on the couch with the remote and a heating pad, but I'll be back the next day.

"You don't want to be down in the dust all the time," he said. "You've got to be upbeat, or life would suck."
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