A Wounded Warrior’s Pixie Dust

By Emily Oehler, WTC Stratcom

Throughout my life there have been key people, that when I met them, I knew it was something special. I’m not talking about celebrities or those with political power. I’m talking about someone who centers you, makes you realize there are greater things in this life, and makes you a better person for knowing them.  Really special people. When I have met these rare people, I was instantly struck to my core—an indelible mark I would forever carry. I would say it was like a lightening strike, but for me, it’s been more like a feeling of being sprinkled with the joy of pixie dust. Magical.

Two years ago I met one such person and his wife—they both gave me a dash of pixie dust—retired SSG Shilo and Kathreyn Harris. On the flight home after meeting them at a work conference, I wrote Shilo and told him he was one of the most beautiful people I had met and that his strength, humor, compassion, and faith were inspiring. Since meeting the Harrises, I’ve had the honor of interviewing them a few times for work with the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) and the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2).  During my last visit, they each sat down with me for separate three hour interviews to share the nooks and crannies of their life since Shilo was severely injured in Iraq. They shared their story in hopes of helping others cope with similar life-changing events. The newly finished 30-minute video is a compelling look at service, marriage, compassion, fortitude, faith, loss, hope and love. 

Warriors in Transition:  A Story of Resiliency demonstrates true strength of character:   

  • On February, 19, 2007, during his second deployment to Iraq, the vehicle SSG Harris was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED), killing three Soldiers, wounding the driver, and leaving SSG Harris with third degree burns on 35% of his body. Due to the severity of his burns, SSG Harris lost his ears, tip of his nose, three fingers, and he sustained fractures to his left collar bone and C-7 vertebrae. Shilo told me, “You know when I’m talking to Soldiers I try to tell them you have to look at everything that God gives you as a gift. It may not always be the gift that you want, but you have to take what you get sometimes and turn it into something else. And that’s kind of what I’ve done.” Since retiring, Shilo has become an Outreach Coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project. 
  • So that Shilo could recover at home, Kathreyn became his primary caregiver spending up to six hours a day on his wound care.  Additionally, she was mom to their daughter and stepmom to his three sons (and now a newborn baby!).  During his recovery, she became an Advocate for the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) to support other wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center.  Kathreyn shared with me that, “The situation that we’ve been put in, it would have been just as easy to let it guide our life into a negative  and into turmoil—and all the negative things that you can imagine but we’ve taken what happened to Shilo and we’ve turned it into a very positive thing.”

I don’t want to share too much and spoil watching the video, but I do hope you take time to watch them share their story—it’s not unlike many of the stories I’ve heard over the past four years shared by some of the 8,000 severely wounded Soldiers and Veterans I have had the honor of meeting. The Harrises’ story will feed your soul, inspire your heart, and captivate your mind. 

And, watch out for their pixie dust!

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