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Staff Sgt Jason Pepper

In 1995, New Jersey native, Jason Pepper, joined the United States Army. In December of the same year, Jason shipped off to Freidberg, Germany. Shortly after arriving in Germany, Jason and his unit, the 23 rd Eng Bn, was deployed to Bosnia where he and his fellow soldiers carried out a 12-month tour. That was Jason’s first experience in a hostile area and firefights. When Jason and his fellow soldiers returned from their deployment in Dec. 1996, they had a lot of down time. In January 1998, the 23rd Engineer Battalion (Eng Bn) re-flagged to the 16th Eng Bn. In March 1998, the 16 th Eng Bn began its deployment to Bosnia to support Operation Joint Guard. Not long after returning from that deployment Jason met his wife Heather and they were married in Denmark on Feb. 12 th 1999. Jason was sent on another deployment to Kosovo in 2000. The deployment was cut short due to a military move from Germany to Kansas. Jason was assigned to the 1 st Eng Bn in Ft. Riley, Kansas where he was deployed yet again for a 6-month rotation to Kuwait in 2001. A few months into the deployment, each soldier’s life would change forever due to the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. Jason was back in Kansas a few months later. Jason received word that he would be going back to Germany around the same time he and Heather found out that they were going to have their first child. Because the due date of their child was for the same day they were to move back to Germany, the move was pushed up by a few months. Jason was again assigned 16 th Eng Bn in Giessen Germany. Just two months before the baby was scheduled to arrive, Jason became very ill and ended up in the ICU for a week for kidney failure. As Jason recovered from his illness, everything was going well. Naomi Renee Pepper was born on October 1, 2002. Jason’s unit was deployed to Iraq in April 2003. Jason volunteered to go, but due to his health, he was denied. For the next ten months, Jason fought to get better and pleaded with medical personnel to release him so he could join his fellow soldiers and do his job. In February of 2004, Jason was finally shipped off to Baghdad to be with his unit. Just days before coming home on April 5, 2004, Jason’s 26 th birthday, the unit received crushing news. They were informed that they had been extended for another six months. They would also be moving from the green zone in Baghdad to Karbala. On May 1, 2004, Jason arrived in Karbala Iraq. He had taken part in numerous missions and firefights, but on May 7, 2004 at 8:37 am, the lights went out forever for Staff Sergeant Jason Pepper. His convoy had been ambushed. Jason saw a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) out of the corner of his eye and pushed two soldiers out of the way to return fire. The RPG flew over the M113 Jason was in. But, as Jason set to return fire, an Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) that was placed in a tree was detonated and blew up not even a meter from Jason’s face. Jason was thrown back and fell on top of one of his soldiers in a pool of blood. He was unable to see, talk or move and the only noise he heard was a high piercing sound. His first thought was, “this is it, I’m dead…what about my wife and our daughter?” There was a chain of IEDs that went off, one right after the other. Everyone in Jason’s M113 froze. One of Jason’s long-time friends, who was in the vehicle behind Jason’s, called for a medic. Once it was safe enough, the medic was at Jason’s side. The medic thought Jason was dead until blood bubbles emerged from Jason’s nose. The soldier Jason landed on top of was also injured by a piece of shrapnel. Jason passed out while en route to 31 st CASH in Baghdad. When Jason awoke he was laying in a hospital bed with his brother, who was also deployed in Iraq, at his side. When Jason awoke he still was unable to see and couldn’t move his upper body, but was able to speak. 48 hours after being injured, Jason was evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany. Heather was able to be at his side within three hours once in Germany. Jason underwent two surgeries within a four day stay at Landstuhl Hospital. Jason, Heather and Jason’s brother were flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center on May 12, 2004. After landing stateside and being transported to Walter Reed, Jason was admitted to the ICU. A few short hours after arriving at Walter Reed, Jason was back in for surgery. Jason has had 27 surgeries on his arms and eyes. Since Jason is at a very high risk of having a deadly allergic reaction while in surgery, the doctors thought it was best to do as much as possible as quickly as they could. So, while the hand surgeon would be working on Jason’s right arm and left hand, the eye surgeon would be working on Jason’s eye sockets, simultaneously. Jason has also undergone numerous procedures to keep his wounds clean. He has been in and out of the hospital at Walter Reed for over 18 months and is due back at the end of April 2006 for another hand surgery. The IED blast that injured Jason left him without both eyes, with a piece of shrapnel, the size of a silver dollar, lodged into the right side of his brain, the loss of smell and taste and the loss of his left index finger. He has lost mobility in his left hand and has little to no feeling in the hand. Other ailments include a shattered right arm from elbow to wrist, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a traumatic brain injury, as well as numerous orbital fractures around the eye sockets. Jason’s left hand is badly deformed and he has developed very bad arthritis in his bones. Jason has had hip surgery that took bone from his hip and placed it in his left hand. He also had a very large skin and tissue graft from his side and groin used to replace the missing tissue and skin from his left hand. This left Jason with nerve damage to his left thigh and arthritis in his right hip. Jason faces each day with severe headaches, which range in severity from 8 to 10 (10 being the worst). He also suffers from short-term memory loss. Jason gets angry very easily and has severe mood swings. However, through it all, Jason has learned to live with most of the things he has had to face since that dark day in May. He enjoys playing with his daughter and doing what he can to help out his wife around the house. Jason is still very uncomfortable around large crowds and can not be left alone for more then two hours at a time, but the Pepper Family is learning to deal with the life they have been given. Jason and Heather found their dream home in Primm Springs, Tennessee and moved in during the spring of 2006. On October 29, 2006, the Pepper family welcomed a new daughter, Cheyanne Noelle Pepper, to the world.