How A Soldier Wounded In Desert Storm Got Back On Track By Serving His Fellow Veterans

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Desert Storm veteran Anthony Drees and his service dog, Diva, a 2-year-old Italian mastiff
Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty Images

Anthony Drees vividly recalls the 1991 Iraqi missile attack on U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia that claimed the lives of more than two dozen fellow service members — an event that would also put his on a new course.


“I hear it more than I feel it — suddenly I’m looking up and I can see the sky,” said Drees, a U.S. Army veteran who moved to Colorado in 1993 after serving in Operation Desert Storm. “The walls I was next to are gone, the roof is gone. There are sounds of people screaming, the smell of people burning. I tried to move my leg and tried to put my shoe on, and it flopped in a direction it doesn’t usually go.”

The former soldier would undergo 74 surgeries in the next 27 years, most of them attempts to save his shattered right leg. Along the way, Drees also made room to focus on the needs of other veterans and eventually took the reins of a nonprofit that helps other groups provide things like service dog training, support for the children of fallen service members and assistance for veterans trying to re-enter civilian life.

“I’m on a mission, and I know what I’m doing,” said Drees, wearing a Desert Storm/Iraqi Freedom ballcap. “None of these things are a sprint, they are a marathon.”

An injury comes back to haunt

Part of that long view for Drees, 50, involves his 27-year-old war injury, which because of a bone infection and a tumor that wrapped around his femur required the amputation of his right leg in February.

While Drees now uses a wheelchair, he comes across as otherwise undeterred. On a recent morning, he had a Denver Post reporter scrambling to keep up with him during an interview as his 125-pound Italian mastiff service dog, Diva, pulled him along Court Place in downtown Denver.

When asked how he feels about his physical challenges, he jokes he’s 20 pounds lighter after the amputation and says he’d rather focus on building his organization in order to help other veterans.

“We’re pounding the pavement and I’m shamelessly smiling and dialing and kissing babies,” he said. “This is veterans helping veterans.”

And as the executive director of Veteran’s Passport to Hope, he helps raise money that gets distributed to other veteran-related nonprofits across Colorado through grants. Drees’ organization raised $100,000 last year for 19 nonprofits — but he’s aiming for $150,000 this year and aspires to reach $1 million in annual disbursements five years from now.

From rough childhood to Desert Storm

That optimism stands in stark contrast to the formative years of his life. Growing up in North Dakota, Drees was abandoned by his mother when he was 13 and pushed into the foster care system. As one of just a few African-Americans living in Grand Forks, N.D., in the 1980s, Drees struggled to find his place.

He became a troublemaker, he admits, doing a 90-day stint in juvenile lockup. He got into the University of North Dakota but then dropped out. His next stop was four years with the U.S. Army, after which he went on inactive reserve for two years.

And then Iraq invaded Kuwait.

“I got a letter (in January 1991) from the Pentagon saying, ‘Welcome back,’ ” Drees said.

He arrived in Saudi Arabia about a month later, tasked with driving blacked-out tanker trucks to supply fuel for Abrams tanks on the front line.

“It’s like a shark bite to me”

Days later, on Feb. 25, 1991, at 8:30 p.m., sirens indicating an incoming Scud missile sounded and sent Drees and his fellow soldiers scrambling for protective equipment. Drees was reaching for his helmet between two cots when the projectile struck.

His left leg was broken, and his right leg was pulverized, with huge chunks of skin blown from the back of both legs.

“It’s a big gaping hole; it’s like a shark bite to me,” Drees said, showing photos on his phone of a yawning gap in his right leg.

Military doctors wanted to amputate, but Drees refused to let them, convinced it could be saved. He underwent 58 surgeries in the first year or so after the attack and then began physical therapy at what is now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Drees’ fortitude prevailed, as he slowly got back the use of both legs. After moving to Colorado, he began a career in auto sales, using his gregarious personality and smooth-talking style to convince customers that a luxury car was in their future.

“I’ve never met anybody with as much tenacity as Tony,” said Amy Meyer Smith, who with her husband co-owns Infiniti of Denver, and has known Drees for 16 years. “He’s been knocked down so many times and he keeps getting back up.”

That dealership has been one of the biggest donors to Veteran’s Passport to Hope, which was founded in 2012 by Army veteran Shane Schmutz.

“Demons” don’t derail him

Patrick Wieland, board president for the nonprofit Drees now leads, first saw him at a fundraiser the organization held in Littleton in 2016. Drees, who now does motivational speaking, gave an inspirational talk at the event and within a year was tapped as executive director. He was largely sidelined from his new job while he dealt with increasing medical issues, culminating in the amputation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio four months ago.

A telling note about Drees’ character, Wieland said, involves how he navigates the timing of the life-changing missile attack, which happened less than 72 hours before President George H.W. Bush suspended hostilities.

Put another way, that’s less than three days before the end of the six-week war.

“There’s demons under there he fights every day — that’s the hero,” said Wieland. “He kind of gets a hold of you, and you kind of want to get fired up by him. He’s a bit intoxicating.”

———

©2018 The Denver Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.

"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.

"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."

The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.

On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

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Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.

The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."

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(Screenshot from 'Leavenworth')

President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.

Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.

"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.

"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"

Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.

Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.

For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.

Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."

In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.

At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.

But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."

"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.

Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.

"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."

The new Call of Duty Modern Warfare takes gaming to a new level. In fact, it's the best damn video game of 2019 (in my humble opinion).

You can watch video of the awesome gameplay for CoD above, and make sure to follow the Task & Purpose team on Twitch here.

This post was sponsored by GoatGuns.Com. Use the code TP15 for 15% off your next order.

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