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Freedom Award.

It was to be their first night out on the town. Mark Brogan had survived 17 days in a coma; an arduous journey toward consciousness and continual therapy.

As he dug for clothes through the bags his wife Sunny had packed when she met him at Bethesda Naval Hospital, he found his dress blues and a stuffed animal he'd had since childhood.

It was in that very moment that he realized how close he'd come to death; his wife had packed for his funeral.

Brogan was on his second tour in Iraq on April 11, 2006. A captain with the 172d Stryker Brigade, he was leading a patrol in a marketplace when a suicide bomber snuck up behind Brogan and two other soldiers.

Brogan has no memory of the blast that nearly claimed his life and instantly killed his sergeant. His right arm was nearly blown off. The force was so great that his helmet was torn from his head and its thick plating was destroyed. His body armor was shattered and his spinal cord was inundated with shrapnel. He had a collapsed lung. His eardrums were blown out.

An emergency craniectomy allowed his brain to swell, but he'd suffered a severe penetrating injury to the right side of his head.

When Sunny Brogan finally saw him in the hospital, she said he looked like something out of a horror film. His head was the size of a basketball. She'd been informed her husband would be a quadriplegic. He'd lost half his skull, she was told, and would probably be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

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She refused to accept the diagnosis.

"Once I saw him, I could tell he was still there," she said. "I don't know how I could tell. There was just something still in there trapped. He'd do little things like move his hands or try to lean towards you when you were talking."

The soldier in him remained and he fought on.

Amazingly, the part of his brain that controls his speech was largely unaffected. Thick hair covers the scars on his head. To meet Brogan, one would never know the true extent of his injuries.

Still, he suffers. He's quick to anger and forgetful. He battles fatigue and has random seizures. His hearing loss, traumatic brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder frustrate him in social settings.

His wife has since given up her professional career to become his caregiver and advocate.

"Sunny took charge from the beginning. She was researching what kind of help was available. She has every medical record cataloged in perfect order. Everything. If I hadn't had her, I probably would have been lost in the system somewhere," Brogan said.

At the clinic, Brogan led by example. Through every event, he showed the spirit and dedication that embodies the true meaning of the event.

In receiving the DAV Freedom Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a participant, he represented countless veterans whose wounds were invisible but whose sacrifices were great. It recognized his leading role beyond the clinic, as a veteran testifying before Congress and speaking out on behalf of the entire community of disabled veterans and their families.

Additionally, the award honored the contributions of caregivers and advocates like his wife Sunny.

"Mark Brogan is the epitome of what participation in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is all about, and Sunny is an unforgettable representative of all our loved ones who serve in silence," said National Commander Wallace E. Tyson. "He's a soldier who is willing to fight for his community and endure beyond the limitations of his injuries while inspiring others to greatness."

Mark Brogan, Iraq War

with special recognition of his spouse Sunny
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Author:Brogan, Mark
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2011
Words:624
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