Louisiana soldier looks past back injury to new baby, new career

Louisiana National Guard Staff Sgt. Steven W. Williams isn’t the type of guy to sit back and feel sorry for himself just because he got injured in combat while in Iraq.

Nor is he the type of guy who wants anything handed to him.

Instead, the 40-year-old Baton Rogue, La., native has grabbed every opportunity to recover from his severe back injury, moved his recovery forward and created a nice future for himself and his family.

“If you just sit there and think someone owes you something because you got injured, you won’t have anything,” Williams said.

Williams hurt his back while deployed to Iraq in 2011 with the 239th Military Police Company, Louisiana National Guard.

He’s not exactly sure when or how he ended up with three compressed disks in his back and tailbone, but he suspects it resulted from the frequent enemy bombardments that Forward Operating Base Kalsu took from rockets and homemade explosives while he was there.

His injury probably happened when he jumped into a bunker while hauling all his equipment, which can weigh up to 80 pounds, he said.

At first, Williams thought it was something as simple as a pulled muscle.

But when he arrived back at Fort Bliss at the end of the 11-month deployment and went through in-processing, they did some x-rays and discovered the extent of his injury.

Williams is now attached to the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion. He has been getting treatment for about 15 months and is getting help with his transition to the next phase of his life.

His back injury was a “freak,” but these type of injuries involving soldiers wearing heavy gear are happening more and more frequently, he said.

Williams isn’t 100 percent yet. He’s still not able to run or walk as much as he used to but is making good progress in his recovery.

He lived at the battalion’s new $57 million Warrior Transition Complex at the installation for nine months and has been living off post in El Paso for about six months now with his family.

He and his wife, Janna, have five children, ranging in age from 5 to 18 with another on the way.

“I’m trying to look past (the injury) and do the best I can,” he said. “I still have a family to feed.”

Not one to mope around, Williams has made sure that he’s taking full advantage of all the programs offered by the Warrior Transition Battalion, which cares for about 400 wounded, ill and injured soldiers.

To help with his recovery, he’s been doing physical therapy, receiving counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and getting steroid shots to help his back with the swelling.

He’s also exercising his mind by going to college — through an on-site program that Park University offers at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, which is part of the Warrior Transition Complex.

He expects to graduate in June with an associate’s degree in security management.

It’s all about building a future.

Soon, he’s hoping to return to his old job as a sheriff’s deputy in East Baton Rogue Parish in Louisiana when he leaves the Warrior Transition Battalion, probably in September.

He would like to remain in the National Guard but has his sights set on more forward-looking goals too.

One day, he would like to work for himself and open his own security consulting business.

To help make that a reality, he is doing an internship through the Warrior Transition Battalion with the Provost Marshal Office at Fort Bliss. In addition, he is working with the WTB’s safety officer doing things like safety checks.

The Warrior Transition Battalion has a list of activities that wounded soldiers can take advantage of each day, Williams said.

“It’s really up to you,” he said.

And Williams is the type that wants to keep his plate full of activities.

He’s been involved with the battalion’s Adaptive Sports Program where he plays wheelchair basketball and participates in marksmanship competitions. He’s not confined to a wheelchair but plays wheelchair basketball to avoid the pounding regular basketball would take on his body.

Through the battalion, he has also gone on some organized trips in which he has visited San Diego, played in a basketball tournament in San Antonio and gone fishing on the Texas Gulf Coast.

“This place has offered everything I need and more than I expected,” he said. “You can go to college, go on trips, do an internship.

“Being here and with what they offer, anything you want to do after you leave is possible,” Williams added.

The new Warrior Transition Complex opened in June 2011 and was paid for with federal stimulus money.

It is designed to be a one-stop shop for wounded, injured and sick soldiers, said 1st Sgt. Chasity Rosales, who is on the command team for Alpha Company, Warrior Transition Battalion, which is the unit that Williams is in.

The complex contains dormitory-style housing for up to 232 soldiers, including Internet, cable, laptops and full kitchens. Many of the rooms are even equipped with laundry facilities.

Each floor of the housing complex also has a recreation room. There is a walking path outside, an exercise labyrinth and plenty of space for unit events.

Nurses, doctors and services like physical therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral health counseling are located on-site.

“It removes any obstacles so their healing and transition is seamless,” Rosales said. “That’s the two aspects of the program — healing and transition.”

Soldiers can choose their own transition plan based on their future goals, she added.

“It’s a great program,” Rosales said. “The Army got it right. We’re doing the right thing for those who have paid the price for freedom.”

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