Vet sees good in a bad day
VAIL – Sgt. Brian Fountaine and his fiancee, Mary Long, plan to get married June 8 of next year. It’s a symbolic date.On June 8 last year, a bomb exploded under Fountaine’s Humvee in Iraq. Both of his legs were amputated after the explosion.”It’s a date that obviously changed everything I’ll know for the rest of my life,” said Fountaine, 25. “But it brought a lot of good stuff. You can’t look at something like that and think of all the bad things it brings.”He may not have met his fiancee if not for that explosion near the Tigris River, he said.Fountaine had corresponded with Long and her family in Kansas as a pen pal during his tour in Iraq. A chance trip brought Long to Washington shortly after she found out Fountaine had been injured and was being treated in the area. Their first date was kayaking on the Potomac River.They became engaged about a month ago. They are planning to build a home in Massachusetts and to start a family. Fountaine said he would eventually like to become an advocate for the disabled.
On Saturday, Fountaine was skiing at Vail on a monoski as part of the Vail Veterans Program, which brought 26 amputee Iraq war veterans here.Thursday was Fountaine’s first day on a monoski. On Saturday, he was all over the mountain, skiing intermediate runs like Pickeroon and Lodgepole.”That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Getting back a little of the freedom you had before and actually enjoying it.”Long said it’s great to see her fiance on the mountain.”It’s cool seeing him with a measure of freedom,” she said. “He can go everywhere everyone else can go.”
‘I wanted to be a patriot’On June 8, Fountaine and his men were in a Humvee securing supply routes just north of Baghdad. As they were driving through a cloud of dust, the truck hit an improvised bomb held together with plywood and garden hose.”When I stood up on one of my stumps that was all mangled, I knew something was pretty wrong,” he said.He was immediately angry at himself for leading his men into danger, he said. Another soldier hurt his leg in the blast, and a third soldier was uninjured.Fountaine is being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which has been in the news lately after the Washington Post reported on deteriorating facilities and mismanagement in its outpatient program.Fountaine had only good things to say about the care he’s received at Walter Reed.
“It’s been way beyond my expectations, that’s for sure,” he said. “I have no complaints.”Fountaine, a Hanson, Mass., native, enlisted in the Army shortly before Sept. 11, 2001.He was initially barred from joining because of medical problems, but he persisted, even asking his congressman for help, and eventually was cleared to enlist.”I wanted to be a patriot and fight for my country,” he said.No easy task
Fountaine was in Iraq for the war’s initial invasion in 2003.He soon realized it wasn’t a “regular war” in which you could plainly see the enemy, he said. Guerrilla tactics were commonplace, and many times you couldn’t tell who or where the enemy was, he said.”We went from an offensive force to pretty much a reactionary force,” he said.He volunteered for another tour in Iraq in 2005, even after about a dozen close calls with improvised bombs. He knew the chances of being hurt or killed were high, but his fellow soldiers needed his leadership, he said.”I made a promise to them that I’d bring them home,” Fountaine said.He doesn’t regret that decision to re-enlist, he said. Some of his actions saved the lives of Iraqis and Americans, and the Army helped many Iraqis with food, clothes and other supplies, he said.
The Americans’ presence in Iraq has improved the lives of many Iraqis, but great challenges remain, Fountaine said.”Iraq and Afghanistan are not going to be an easy war to win,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard fight.” ====================How to helpThe Vail Veterans Program is a Vail-based nonprofit that’s supported by donations from businesses and individuals. To donate, or for more information about the program, go to http://www.vailveteransprogram.com.====================Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.