Giving all but the ultimate sacrifice

Published 8:30 am Monday, May 27, 2013

Adam Palmer, center, and fellow soldiers in Iraq.

Adam Palmer, center, and fellow soldiers in Iraq.

Catching up with Adam Palmer

This Memorial Day Adam Palmer has a longer list of soldiers to remember in his prayers than he’d like. Palmer spent three tours of duty in Iraq, giving all but the ultimate sacrifice as he watched many of his comrades lose their lives for their country.

“It was rough, it was real rough and a lot of my close friends were killed,” Palmer said.

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Born and raised in Polk County and Landrum, Palmer entered the military right out of high school. He said he knew he needed direction in his life and wanted to see new places, too. Watching 9/11 unfold as a junior in high school had an influence as well.

“I think that had something to do with it for sure,” Palmer said.

Palmer headed off to basic training in July 2003 and was in Germany training for his first deployment by November that same year. He put boots on the ground in Iraq in February 2004, barely six months out of basic.

“You get closer than with family because you don’t run around saving each other’s lives here,”

Palmer explained of the bond he formed with his brothers and sisters in arms.

That first deployment Palmer and the 130 soldiers from his barracks saw a lot of small arms fire – orthodox warfare, as he put it. In 2004 they began seeing IEDs or improvised explosive devices, but he said the enemy was still young in their tactics so American soldiers knew how to defend themselves.

It was the second tour that Palmer said he and his peers saw the war intensify.

“There were no battle lines anymore,” Palmer said.

He spent 15 months in the warzone during his second tour.

Palmer said there were regular people getting paid by terrorist organizations to fight U.S. soldiers. It added a lot of perspective, he said, and helped him deal with a lot of the things he saw because he realized the people they were fighting were just people put in bad situations. He said many of them had no means of making an income until the terrorists came in and offered them more money than they could make in a year to plant one IED.

“There’s no limit to what I would do to ensure my family’s well-being. That keeps me from hating. These are the things you have to think about or else you start letting those seeds of hate settle in,” Palmer said.

It was during this stint that he met his wife, Ellenie. He lived with a military buddy and his wife for several weeks while on leave or between deployments. His friend’s wife introduced Palmer to Ellenie with four days left in his leave. They married just a few months later.

Ellenie had their daughter, Mya, a month before Palmer left on the third tour. Mya was just 3 months old when Palmer was injured.

Palmer’s unit had taken five to 10 rockets but hadn’t even found an IED in two months. He said they were in the process of getting ready to fully turn the area they patrolled over to the Iraqis when his unit was attacked. In fact, the Iraqis had been patrolling for about a week.

Palmer always rode in the front truck of his patrol because he possessed the most combat experience and was sharp at spotting IEDs. This day, however, he took a seat in another truck.

Palmer said they were driving along their patrol, joking about boxing and trying to become a golden glove, when three seconds later they were hit.

When it happened, Palmer said it took a moment to realize what was happening. In fact, he thought he was fine and worried more about the rest of the men in the truck than any injuries he might have sustained. Eventually he came to realize his entire leg was soaked in blood. Palmer’s arm was hanging off, the back half of it missing, and a piece of shrapnel was burning against his back. Then the pain hit.

“I didn’t pray to live this time – I had pretty much just accepted it,” Palmer said. “I prayed that he would take care of my family instead.”

It wasn’t however the end of Palmer’s road that day. Palmer said he woke up 27 hours later in Bagdad. He was quickly flown to Germany where a number of surgeries were performed just to stabilize him. Next, he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where his wife, daughter Mya, and other family were waiting.

“After I got hit there were a lot of guys at Walter Reed with missing limbs who’s wives would leave them. I realized [Ellenie] had my back when I was down,” Palmer said. “I needed help with everything.”

A scar down his arm reminds Palmer of what happened. He endured more than 20 surgeries. Surgeons had to reconstruct his arm and hand. He had to learn to walk again too. Palmer remained an in-patient for a month and a half at Walter Reed and continued to heal while in a wheelchair through outpatient rehabilitation for four months.

“I’m very blessed,” Palmer said. “My doctors have said for all the surgeries, the outcomes have been the best case scenario.”

But recovering physically and mentally takes time – if it can ever truly happen.

“I really had a hard time during recovery … it really looked desolate at times,” Palmer said.
He said civilians often don’t realize what soldiers go through after being injured.

Many of his peers served on three or more tours; one guy was deployed six times, he said. These men and women come back with all sorts of anxieties, depression and other mental concerns. Compounding that, he said, is the fact that there are very little job opportunities out there for a combat soldier; the skills they acquired aren’t often suited for the civilian world, especially if they are injured.

He said he has at least four close friends, all medically retired from the military, who don’t have jobs.

“There’s a huge void,” Palmer added. “In the military, you felt like you did something that mattered. It’s hard to know what to replace that with.”

Palmer said the battle our country faces now is that there are tons of soldiers coming back with catastrophic injuries.

“It would blow your mind how many 18-25-year-olds there are at Walter Reed,” Palmer said. “Guys that are lone survivors from entire squads of guys that were killed. I feel like it’s the least we can do – helping these guys. Even when the war is over these guys are still going to be missing limbs. The Wounded Warrior Project does something for those guys – they give them a chance.”

The Wounded Warrior Project provided Palmer, as it does with other injured soldiers, with clothes, phone cards, backpacks and other daily needs.

Palmer talks up Wounded Warrior and other efforts to help returning soldiers whenever he can. He spoke last Veteran’s Day to his church, Tryon United Methodist, about his experience and the Wounded Warrior Project.

LTC John Albree last fall presented a symbolic check to Palmer representing a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project from the church in honor of Palmer’s service.

Palmer was medically retired from the military last year. Now, with the love and support of his family and friends, he’s trying to rebuild a life and a purpose.

“I want to do something now. I want to be a part of something. We [soldiers] used to look forward to waking up in the morning, now we look forward to sleeping at night,” he said of soldiers not feeling the same sense of purpose they did in the military. “There’s nothing better than being the hero of the day – nothing.”

Palmer encourages people to think of soldiers, the ones that gave their lives and the ones who gave all but their lives, not only on days like Memorial Day but throughout the year.

“I’m thankful to everyone that has helped me out through everything I’ve been through. A lot of these guys don’t have the support I had,” he said.

For more information or to learn how to contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project, go to