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Van donation helps wounded Marine

Friendswood Marine Steven Schulz took a major step this week on his journey back from a traumatic brain injury suffered in Iraq, as a Minnesota company provided him with a customized van to simplify transport to rehabilitation in Houston.

By:Tom Jacobs 11/10/2005

Friendswood Marine Steven Schulz took a major step this week on his journey back from a traumatic brain injury suffered in Iraq, as a Minnesota company provided him with a customized van to simplify transport to rehabilitation in Houston.
Still dependent on a wheelchair but vowing to be walking in weeks, the 21-year-old veteran and his parents, Steve and Debbie Schulz, accepted the keys to the van on Monday in front of their Falcon Ridge home.
The van was customized by Rollx Vans of Savage, Minnesota, as part of the company's "Wounded Warrior" program to make such vehicles available to injured soldiers.
The vehicle will be insured and maintained by Rollx for up to six months or until the soldier's Veterans Administration benefits become available. This is the eleventh van the company has provided in the program.
Since returning home to Friendswood three weeks ago, Schultz has been driven to and from rehab therapy in Houston by his mother, Debbie Schulz, a teacher at Friendswood High School who has taken a leave of absence from school duties until January.
"She's the greatest mom in the world, by far," Steven Schulz said.
"It's a miracle, it's really a miracle," Debbie Schulz said Monday of the fact that her son, the oldest of three children, is able to be home and safe with his family after such a terrible injury.
"There's been some bleak times" since that night last April when the family received word that Steven was injured in a blast from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), she said.
On the evening of April 19, Lance Corporal Schulz was riding shotgun in an unarmored Humvee along a Fallujah street that his unit had traveled "hundreds of time," his father said.
On that night, however, insurgents detonated a mortar shell that had been built into a concrete curb just as Schulz's vehicle was passing.
Shrapnel from the blast hit the front passenger side of the all-purpose military vehicle, whose lack of protective armor has emerged as one of the military controversies of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Soldiers in the field were forced to customize their own vehicle protection until the military launched a program to "uparmor" its Humvee fleet.
The vehicle in which Schulz was riding was one of two in his unit that had not yet been so armored, and had open windows on each side.
Steven said he saw a piece of shrapnel hit the vehicle's windshield, and the next thing he remembered was awakening in a military hospital in Germany.
A fraction of a second after that shrapnel hit the windshield, another piece coming through the side opening had punched into Schulz's face near his right eye and traveled into his brain.
The blast occurred about 3 p.m. Friendswood time, and about 10 that night that the family received a brief, less-than-reassuring call that Steven had been seriously injured in an IED attack, his father said.
Sleepless, worried hours later, as the family tried to gather whatever news they could about their son's condition or even where he was, a family friend from church made contact with a retired marine general of his acquaintance who started working the system to find out where Steven was and how he was doing, Steve Schulz said.
The young marine was already at a military hospital in, Germany, in critical but stable condition.
Seventy-two hours later, hisparents met him in Bethesda, Maryland, where Steven continued to undergo surgeries (six on his brain alone).
He was in Intensive Care for 32 days, and in June was moved to the VA hospital in Tampa, Florida.
In August Schulz returned to Bethesda for further treatment before his release three weeks ago.
Initially, surgeons told his family that Steven's prognosis was "pretty grim," his father said.
But Steven has made progress that has both family and physicians hopeful he will make a significant recovery.
After the injury, Steven was paralyzed on his entire left side, but has since regained some use of his left leg; his left arm is still immobile.
He has about 30 percent vision in his right eye, where the shrapnel hit, and he lacks peripheral vision in his left eye due to injury to the right side of his brain.
There is still a small piece of shrapnel deep in his brain that physicians are going to leave in place, Steve Schulz said.
On Monday, Steven and his father experimented with getting into and out of their new "Wounded Warrior" van, with Steven controlling the remote and Steve helping roll his son's wheelchair into the vehicle.
"Being able to transport Steven efficiently and safely has been a huge concern for us," Steve Schulz said. "With the van, we won't have to take the chance of hitting his head on the side of the car.
"Before we knew we weregetting the van, Steven wasn't sure that he wanted to travel to see relatives on Thanksgiving," he continued. "Now, he's excited about going places and doing things."
Father and son were featured in a front page article in The Journal last March, detailing the company that the elder Schulz had founded, Supplied To Survive.
After listening for months to his son's shopping list of mechanical and technical items that his unit was either short of or totally lacked, Steve Schulz set to work lining up purchases or donations of items ranging from rifle scopes and heavy duty vehicle jacks, to Global Positioning Devices and thick gloves for handling razor wire. Schulz and his partners then ship the items off to Iraq.

That March article, published less than three weeks before Steven was wounded during his second deployment to Iraq, featured a picture of the helmeted, begoggled young vehicle commander surveying the war zone from atop his Humvee (he snapped the picture himself).
Now, sitting in a wheelchair with his hair growing back to cover his surgery scars, the 2002 Friendswood High grad projects the same self-confidence he exhibited in that self portrait from Iraq.
"I'll be walking in two weeks," he told a reporter Monday.
His rehab will now take about six hours a day, four days a week.
Last Friday night, in his distinctive USMC dress blues and with his Purple Heart pinned to his chest, Schulz stood and saluted the crowd during a patriotic halftime celebration at Friendswood High School. Also recognized at the football game were the families of two other Friendswood Marines who have died in action, one of whom was Wesley Canning, killed in Iraq last November.
On Saturday, Schulz attended the annual Marine Corps Ball in Houston (the USMC's birthday is Nov. 10, and the ball is a feature of Marine life anywhere leathernecks can gather). His date for the evening was a girl he knew from high school days, Debbie Schulz said.
"They were spinning around his chair on the dance floor," she said.
And what's on Steven's mind these days, besides eating to gain back some of the thirty pounds he's dropped since his injury?
"Girls, girls and cars," Debbie Schulz said.

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