On Sunday, May 1, 2011, the Wounded Heroes Fund Kern County Chapter held their 3rd annual Salute to Local Heroes at the CSUB Outdoor Amphitheater in celebration and support of local veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Two local veterans honored were Casey Schaubschlager and Wesley Leon-Barrientos.
In the savage fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah during the darkest days of the Iraqi insurgency, Cpl. Casey Schaubschlager and his brother Marines were so continually battered by daily combat that Schaubschlager can’t even say how many times he was wounded.
“We got mortared three times a day like clockwork. Morning, noon and night.”
It was a buried, remotely triggered artillery shell that finally sent him home for good, with 40-60 percent hearing loss and traumatic brain injury.
Schaubschlager still contends with the invisible wounds of survivor guilt and post-traumatic stress and likely always will, has had to fight for medical care for combat injuries and still hasn’t received his Purple Heart. But for Schaubschlager, who considered himself a career Marine, the premature end to his Marine Corps career may have been the bitterest loss of all.
“If it wasn’t for them retiring me out, I would still be in for my 20 years. I was what they called a ‘lifer.’”
Schaubschlager is open about his difficulties in coping with that loss and readjusting to civilian life. He’s gradually healing from his seen and unseen wounds with the support of a loving wife and the same determination that saw him through his three combat tours of Iraq. And he credits the Wounded Heroes Fund with helping with everything from groceries to finding jobs.
“They actually approached me. They just felt like they wanted to help me, so they did. They were ‘forcefully helpful,’ in a good way, though,” he laughed.
His work at the Kern County Veterans Center, volunteering with the Wounded Heroes Fund and pursuing a degree in psychology with an eye toward helping other vets have given Schaubschlager a renewed sense of purpose in a post-Marines life that, until recently, he’d never even imagined. His advice to other vets?
“Keep the faith, keep the hope, don't let your head hang low. At first I let my pride get in the way. Don't let your pride get in the way of getting the help you need.”
For U.S. Army Cpl. Wesley Leon-Barrientos and his fellow 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles,” death and injury were a daily reality in Iraq’s infamous “Sunni Triangle,” as were enormous mental stresses and ironic twists of fate. He once flipped a coin with a close friend to determine which one would have to take up the dreaded rear position in a convoy escort.
“I lost, and he got to go in the front truck. The front truck got hit and he died right there.”
That was the first of many incidents over the course of three combat tours that might have shattered a less resilient man, but not Leon-Barrientos, who earned five Army Commendation Medals and three Purple Hearts. The third was for an IED attack that cost him a broken jaw, two crushed vertebrae - and both of his legs. But he believes there are reasons for everything - even for that. He gestures to his two year old pixie of a daughter, who was born during the time he’d still have been in Iraq had he not been wounded:
“I see a lot of reasons. I see one right now. She wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t lost my legs,” said Leon-Barrientos. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Leon-Barrientos’ friendliness and upbeat attitude are remarkable in light of all he’s experienced. He is lavish and effusive in his praise of the way the people of Kern County support their veterans, especially through the efforts of the Wounded Heroes Fund, which protected his mother’s home from foreclosure while she remained with him during his year-long sojourn at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., and helped build his family a home of their own.
“If you've never had anything that you're thrilled about, proud about, and honored to do in your life, there's nothing better than volunteering with and donating to the Wounded Heroes Fund.”
Please join the Wounded Heroes Fund in thanking and supporting these remarkable young men and their families and many others like them for their service and sacrifices. For more information, or to learn more about Casey Schaubschlager and Wesley Leon-Barrientos and their fellow vets, call 661-324-7453 or visit www.thewoundedheroesfund.org.