Monday, November 12, 2007

What's happening with Lance?

He's coming home! (See below . . . and stay tuned.)

It's been awhile since I've posted a Lance update. Just busy. So here's several, starting with the very latest and going back in time.

November 10, 2007 . . . from Kathy Smith:

Dear Friends of Lance Iunker,

On Thursday, November 15th, we are planning A HERO'S WELCOME! for our beloved Lance. We don't have the times of his flight yet, and we may not know until as late as Tuesday or Wednesday, but we will keep you posted as we learn more. However, there are many details that we can pass onto you now.

First of all, we are almost sure that he will be arriving later in the evening, such as 8:00pm, 9:00pm, or 10:00pm. Immediate family will meet him at the airport, as well as police and fire depts., who will give him an escort from the airport to his home (so cool!). The rest of us will be waiting to welcome him on the Iunker's street/cul-de-sac. Their address is 872 Columbine Ct. Our vision for this is to have the street lined with family and friends (lots of them!) waving American flags, and homemade posters/banners. The tricky part of this is... now that Lance will most likely be arriving after dark, we will also need lots of lights! So please bring lots of American flags of all sizes and bright flash lights in order to light them up. Also were thinking of stringing small white lights from tree to tree and bush to bush to help outline the street and add more light. Portable flood lights and extension cords will also be needed. If you can help with supplying and/or setting up any of these items, please let me know. Yellow ribbons are being supplied by neighbors, they will be tied to the trees.

Some important things to note: Please do not park on Columbine. Park on another street, the farther away, the better! In fact, if we end up getting the numbers of people we are expecting, it might be even better for many of us to park at the Marigold center. There are two important reasons for this: one, is we want Lance to be surprised as he turns onto Columbine, so cars need to be hid. Secondly, we will need to leave plenty of space for the police and fire vehicles escorting Lance, and other media vehicles that are likely to show up as well. Fewer vehicles will also make a safer environment for the numbers of people milling around in the dark.

Also please be considerate of the neighbors, showing concern for their property (don't trample their flower beds, etc.), their ability to park and use their driveways, and especially noise level. Although we will be making a bit of noise, especially once Lance arrives, let's stay as quiet as possible for as long as possible.

We can be respectful of Lance and the Iunker family in two important ways: First, let's stay away from the airport to allow just the immediate family time for their reunion with Lance. Secondly, we will need to be sensitive to our timing at the end, so we can allow Lance to get settled into his home quickly after a very tiring day's journey. Which leads me to the plan for when Lance arrives. Obviously, we will wave and cheer once Lance turns onto the street and continue cheering as he drives by. Once the vehicles have parked, we will gather into the cul-de-sac and cheer once more as he gets out of the car, and then Pastor Ken Peet and Pastor Tim from Grace Church will lead us in a time of prayer. After that, I'm sure there will be a few words of love and appreciation exchanged, but here is where we need to be sensitive to how Lance is feeling and to remember that he will be here for two weeks, so time for talking will have to come later. Our purpose here is to just to show him our love and gratitude by our presence which we will do in a big way, I hope, as we line the street. Short and Sweet... very, very sweet!

Please spread the word to others who may not get this email. We are hoping to post Lance's final schedule, once we know it, in a couple of places, one of those possibly being Grace church's website, We will let you know once we been given permission.

Also, remember to keep this a secret from Lance, especially you facebook users, and others who may be in touch with him.
I'm very excited for all of us to be able to express our great love and admiration to/for Lance and his family in this way.

Call or email me if you have any questions,
In His Amazing Love,
Kathy Smith

November 6, 2007 . . .

Hello everyone!

I know it has been quite some time since the last update and I am sorry about that. I have been waiting to here if Lance would be able to come home for Thanksgiving and it is looking like a yes! The back doctor has given him a stamp of approval and filed the paperwork for a two week convalescent leave beginning November 15th! As soon as the Army approves it I will let you know when his plane flight will come in. Kathy Smith from Grace Church will be setting up a welcome home parade on our street with American flags and the works! Lance is so excited to see everyone. He is still in a lot of pain (back and chest) so pray that the flight would be as comfortable as possible for him.

Here is some amazing God at work news to share with you. A two star General from the Pentagon came to Georgia and came by the rehab hospital to meet some of the soldiers. He was very nice and was listening to each one of their stories. When he got to Lance he was blown away by his story and had him go on and on. Lance shared with him how he was called "Preach" or "Preacher" and how God saved them through so many battles. The General presented Lance with a beautiful 2-Star Coin in the shape of the Pentagon. Apparently, these are very hard to get. The front says "Courageous in Spirit. Compassionate in Service." Then it has the Chaplain's seal and says "Pro Deo Et Patria - For God and Country" and "Religious Leadership for the Army". On the back it says "Presented by the Chief of Chaplains for Excellence" and has a flag with two stars. Then in quotes it says, "The soldiers heart, the soldiers spirit, the soldiers soul are everything." Lance says it is beautiful and it was a once in a lifetime experience!

The next couple of days people from the hospital kept coming by his room and telling him what an impression he had made on that General. Lance didn't think much about it until he got a call from the General at Fort Gordon. That General asked to meet with him at 7:00 am Monday morning. Lance was asked to share his story and then the Command Sgt. Major of the Post gave him another coin and the General asked him to ride in the Veteran's Day Parade with him and when the parade was over he asked Lance to share his story in a speech on Veteran's Day! So please pray for Lance as he shares what God has done for him in front of many people at a Veteran's Day service next Monday, November 12th!

Lance is recovering very well overall. He is now walking without a walker! He said it was slowing him down too much so he got rid of it one day and his student nurse has to keep asking him to walk slower so she can keep up with him. I asked him why he was always in such a hurry and he said, "I just like to walk with a purpose!"

Emotionally things go up and down all the time and he is working through his losses. He told me that second and third platoon returned home from Baghdad on Saturday along with Munoz and Sgt. Steigman (who was on R&R when the accident happened)(both from 1st platoon). All of Lance's 1st platoon buddies that were injured (with the exception of Swift and Lance) were there on the Green Ramp to meet them as they deboarded the plane. All the soldiers from 2nd and 3rd platoon started crying. This was the first time they had seen the men from 1st platoon since they had rescued them and put them on the Medi-Vac helicopters! Once they had all hugged each other they all started asking "Where's Preach, Where's the Preacher?" They were so bummed to find out he was in a hospital in Georgia. Lance was really sad to have missed that day. He so badly wants to see all of them! He has been able to talk to many of the wounded men from his platoon and they are all healing up really well and are back at Fort Bragg. Second and third platoon were never again made to go on dangerous missions after the night of the accident.

Lance was told that all of his things were sent home to California from Baghdad at the beginning of October. All of the other guys have already received their things. Unfortunately, Lance received one item and it appears all of his remaining items have been lost in shipping. He was so bummed and started to get angry and I reminded him of what he told me in the middle of September when he first landed in the United States. I had asked him, "Lance, how do we get all your things back?" He said, "It doesn't really matter mom. Nothing matters, except that I made it out of there alive. I never thought that I would make it out alive and with all of my parts working. I am so glad to be back. That is all that matters. Everything else can be replaced." I told him to go back to that place mentally every time he is bummed about his missing things. He agreed.

Lance is really excited to come home and see everyone. He says it will be the best thing for his morale! He is getting really sick of being in the hospital! He also cannot wait to see Cal Poly play football again! Until he left for the Army he had never missed a Cal Poly football game since the day he was born! He also can't wait to come home to Grace Church again. He says that is one of the things he has missed the most since being gone!

There is so much to be thankful for and you all are a huge part! I thank God for not only sparing my son's life but also for all of your prayers and support. God bless!

In His great and amazing love,

October 28, 2007 . . .

Hello family & friends,

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support. Lance and our family has truly been blessed by all you have done. Lance is making slow and steady gains in his recovery. From the neck up he has healed remarkably well. His back and chest continue to cause him a great deal of pain but the medication he is on is helping. When he is off of it for any length of time it is painful to even take a breath so he gets a bit discouraged from that! However, he continues to do his physical therapy (working out both cardio and lower body) and voluntarily increased it to twice a day so he could see more improvement! He went back to the orthopedic doctor and asked about two things: 1) When would he be able to wakeboard & snowboard again; and 2) Could he come home to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving?

The doctor said "Yes! He could come back for the Thanksgiving Holiday! We are really excited! He needs final approval from the Army which he will hopefully receive on Monday, November 5th. Then he hopes to get a flight home on Wednesday, November 14th!!!! I will be sure to keep you all posted. He will need someone to escort him home so we are thinking that my sister might be able to fly back to bring him home. He wanted to make it to the last Cal Poly football game!

Regarding the wakeboarding, etc... the doctor told him that while he will be able to return to a normal life it will take some time! He said that Lance should not do anything that jars his back for a couple of years and then he should not do anything that could cause a spinal cord injury for at least four years or so until the bone fragments have dissolved and are no longer a threat to his spinal cord. So Lance said he will have to complete his college education and then become a police officer! I will have to keep him from attempting the wakeboarding and snowboarding (wish me luck)! Here is where I think pain must be a blessing because it forces us not to do what we shouldn't do.

Lance is taking recreational field trips each week. They have been really fun for him and yet have exposed things that he has had to work on. Today he is at the NASCAR races with Mrs. Hawkins' brother! Last weekend he went to the Army vs. Georgia Tech football game in Atlanta. They were treated like royalty and got to sit up in the sky box seats! That was so much fun! He said that on the way there the bus or van that they were on broke down. There was a loud bang and then the motor died and they pulled off to the side of the road. All the wounded soldiers just sat there really quiet and still for a few moments until one of them said, "Anybody else having a flashback right now!" Everyone started laughing and felt so much better that they were not the only one thinking in their head that they had just been hit by an IED! Lance said that large groups of people that are talking really loud can bring back memories of the risk that the humanitarian aid missions used to be for the guys. He said he is trying to get used to having people talk in booths behind him since he can't turn around to see if there is a risk or threat behind him. The psychologist assured him that everything he is going through is absolutely normal but it sure makes Lance feel he is still all jacked up.

Lance did tell me yesterday that he is proud of what he has done and that he has no regrets. He feels like he served his country well and that he is glad he signed up, fought for his country and served the way he wanted to serve. He feels like he can move on with his life feeling proud and living with no regrets. He did say that he is glad that it is over!

Thank you so much for your continued prayers. I will keep you posted on when Lance will be home!

In His amazing love,

October 18, 2007 . . .

Hello family & friends,

Lance was told this week that he will be receiving the Purple Heart Award in a ceremony at Fort Gordon this Tuesday, October 23rd! He is so excited! It is a huge award and an important one for his future as well. From what our family is learning, vets with a Purple Heart have a much easier time accessing future health care. Our family would love to go out there to see it but it was such late notice that it just won't be possible. I am trying to contact various people we have met back there to see if they can take a picture or videotape the ceremony for me. Lance had wanted to be in his Class A uniform for the ceremony but none of his uniforms have been recovered and he cannot get into regular clothes for a few more months so he has decided to go for it as is!

Lance also got a new roommate this week. He is an older career Army guy that was hit by an IED and suffered a brain injury from the concussion. He is in the rehab hospital to help him with his memory loss and his headaches. This past week Lance also went to the races for a few hours and this weekend will get to attend the Army vs. Georgia Tech football game. That will be his longest day up and about but one that will be well worth it! He is really excited! Mrs. Hawkins's brother, Keith, has also offered to take him to see the NASCAR races the following weekend! I'm not sure he is ever going to want to get out of this hospital! Lance finally made contact with Brendle and another guy from his platoon! He was really excited. He found them on the Internet (Facebook). Brendle is getting married this Saturday while he is still on convalescent leave. He got sick of having a cast on his arm and hand so he cut it off himself and then went to the local drag racing track and took his Mustang drag racing 123 mph with his 5 broken ribs!! I told Lance, "Your friend sounds a little crazy!" Lance said, "Oh, yea! Brendle's really crazy. Most of the guys in my squad were!" The most exciting conversation was with a Sgt. that Lance had had many great conversations about God and the Bible with. After the accident the Sgt. had asked for a Bible. Lance spoke to him this past week and he told Lance that when he first got out of the hospital he started drinking too much and misusing his pain meds. Then he started reading the Bible and now his wife keeps asking him what in the world he is doing because he is always holding the baby and reading the Bible!!

He also is continuing to have great conversations with the guys that are in the hospital. They seem to really open up to him and share their stories, even the hardened ones. Hopefully he will be able to share his testimony with them as well. Please continue to pray for his pain to diminish. He still has a lot of pain in the back and chest. It may just be God's way of slowing him down because he keeps trying to overdo it so if it is for a purpose so be it.

Also pray for his emotional and mental state. As you can well imagine, he still has his up days and his down days. I pray he continues to turn those over to the Lord and they become less and less overtime. He just wants them to go away but I know he needs to process all this yucky stuff first. Thank you so much for all your prayers and support!

In His grace and for His glory,

October 13, 2007 . . .

Dear family & friends,

Lance is making slow and steady progress in his recovery. He had a bit of a setback this week which was a bummer but he is doing much better now. On Monday he decided to have his roommate order a hamburger from a restaurant on "the outside" since he was sick of hospital food. Unfortunately it was undercooked and he got a very bad case of food poisoning! He was unable to get his back brace on in time and started throwing up without the brace (he isn't even allowed to cough or sneeze without the brace on)! Once the nurses got his brace on he continued to be violently ill well into the night until the doctor could put an order in for a shot to stop his body from being ill. The pain this all caused in his back and chest kept him from being able to get out of bed for three days and the doctor had to order muscle relaxants in order for him to be able to breath normally again. It was a really rough week for the poor guy!! In addition, his roommate Luke was released to outpatient status. That was a sad day because Luke was such a huge help for Lance. He helped him with his food tray and he helped him get his back brace on each morning. He was good company as well! Here is the good news - Lance is back up and doing physical therapy. He gets to go out on his first recreational therapy "field trip" tonight! They are going to the races! Lance is so excited and a little nervous because it is a lot of sitting and his pain medication will run out during the event but it will be really fun. He also has a brace he can use to take a shower now so that is awesome for him! I think the occupational therapist helps him with that a couple of times a week.

Some of the most exciting things have been the relationships he is forming at the rehab hospital. There are always guys coming into his room wanting to talk to him. There were two guys that were very angry when they were at Eisenhower Hospital. The nurses couldn't stand them because they were so mean. Actually, one of them is married and his wife was ready to leave because he was being so mean. They have both opened up and started sharing their stories with Lance and become so friendly and nice. After hearing what has happened to Lance, they felt like they weren't the only one who had been through a lot and they felt like someone else had a horrible thing happen to them too and yet wasn't all mad at the world but was thankful! Lance said they are like night and day now and it has only been a week! They also asked if Lance was famous or something because he has done so many interviews (he has done two radio interviews from KSBY and KVEC in our hometown and then he was interviewed by the local Army base newspaper and put on the front page this week!) If you want to read the latest news article of him at the rehab center you can find it at

He is on the front page to the right and then it is continued on page 4.
Lance's 4th grade teacher's brother (Keith Betts) who lives in Augusta, Georgia, loaned Lance his laptop computer and John MacArthur's church sent Lance a free replacement for all his Bible Study Guide Library that he had on his laptop in Baghdad! He just received it yesterday and is so excited! It is what he misses the most. He hopes that he receives all of his things eventually but just having a laptop and this Bible Study material is a huge blessing for him.

It sounds like he may get to come home for a couple of weeks at Christmas although he wants to push for a week at Thanksgiving too! We will see how things are going when it gets closer. I have attached a picture of him at the rehab hospital with his roommate Luke. He is looking good don't you think? Thanks so much for your continued prayers!

In His grace and for His glory,

October 7, 2007 . . .

Hello family & friends,

It's been awhile since I have updated all of you on Lance so I will try to remember everything that has gone on in the last ten days or so. I just returned with my dad from visiting Lance and he is making such wonderful progress in his recovery each and every day. When you look at him it is hard to imagine the extent of his injuries; he just looks remarkable! His face, ear and head look completely healed visually. He is also getting up and walking with the help of a walker and his back brace each day.

Friday, September 29th, Lance was moved to the Uptown VA Hospital in Augusta, Georgia where an entire wing is for Active Duty Soldiers that have been injured in the Iraq war. I cannot say enough good things about this facility. They have a complete wrap around program with wonderful physical therapy, occupational therapy, a psychologist, a social worker, a medical doctor, nurses, a dietitian and all the Army personnel that coordinate his specialist appointments. Their are about 30 soldiers that roam the halls, the day room and wheel in and out of each other's room to visit and swap battle stories. It is awesome because it is a giant support group without any of them knowing they are getting any kind of "group therapy". From the moment the soldier arrives the occupational therapist and the nurses begin working on making the soldier as "independent" as they can medically be. It is amazing to see how far they get them in just the week I was there! The motivation is pretty high for most of the guys but there are a few that just want to lay there. That is not allowed! The physical therapist pushes them to their limits as well. Most of them complain that he is trying to kill them all over again! Lance told me this morning that he could hardly walk because he was so sore from physical therapy. I asked if it was his back that was sore and he said, "no it's my legs!". So that is a good thing!

Well here is how his injuries are shaping up and what the doctors have told us: His ear is healing remarkably well. He went in again this week and had it cleaned out. They found some stitches deep inside the ear canal (apparently his ear wasn't just severed off but actually 'ice cream scooped out' deep down to the bone) so they removed the inside stitches and cleaned it out really well and his hearing is already coming back he said. An audiologist tested him at the VA hospital and found no hearing loss at all! Praise God!

His face looks totally healed visually but it still hurts him when he eats. We thought that he had just fractured his orbital (the bones around his eyes) but he actually had a tripod fracture of the right side of his face. The doctor said that if anyone pops him in his face that it would just cave in (lovely visually don't you think). He was actually very fortunate the doctors said that he didn't need any surgeries to hold his face in place. It is just healing the way it was and he still looks like Lance! Praise God for that too! But it does hurt to move his jaw so he wasn't eating for a long time. There was a little concern for some time over his not eating because he had lost over 20 pounds in just three weeks! Add the atrophy of his muscles from just lying in bed and he looks really thin. He said he feels like he is repeating high school all over again! He liked having a few more muscles when he was in Baghdad!

His chest is hurting less and less but is still a contributor to his pain especially when he first lays down after being up for awhile. His back is obviously his most critical injury. The doctors told us that where he broke his back is a very dangerous place to have spinal cord trauma and to break your back. It is the spot that helps your body control your breathing (which is why he kept having such low oxygen levels), it controls his blood pressure & pulse (which is probably why he gets so dizzy), and it controls his body temperature (which is why he keeps having hot flashes and chills). Because of the location of his break, they want his back completely stable for three months minimum with no added trauma so they would not have to do the surgery where they place hardware in his back which could give him problems later in life. For these reasons, the medical team decided (and we all agreed) that having him come home to California was not in his best interest. He would also be laying in a hospital bed and not getting all of the physical & occupational therapy that is so needed for him to stay healthy. In addition, the social camaraderie from his fellow soldiers and the debriefing he gains from the psychologist is so important for someone who has come back from war. The psychologist told us that Lance has seen more gore, violence and trauma than most of the soldiers that he has ever dealt with and yet he is extremely emotionally healthy! Praise God for that too!!! He actually scored a 0 on the depression test. He still wants to meet with him just to help him unwind from the constant adrenaline he has been under. For example, Lance is still really jumpy if anyone makes a loud noise or comes up behind him and he hates not having a gun! We are all really glad, however, that he does not have one, so that we can come up behind him!

Anyway, this rehab. hospital is wonderful and Lance will probably stay there for about 6-8 months (although timelines with the Army are constantly changing). There is talk of him coming home for two weeks at Christmas time if his back has healed and is stable. We will all look forward to that! Our neighbor has a ton of yellow ribbons ready to replace the ribbons that line our street now to welcome him home! Our church friends have talked about lining the street and making some sort of parade type route to welcome him home and their are several sheriff and police that have talked about using their lights on their cars to greet him at the airport when he lands! What a day that will be for him! I am counting the days but more than that I am praising God that he is safe in the states, that he is recovering from his injuries and that his story will go on to glorify God as he tells it to others! The support from our friends, our church, our workplaces, and our community has been overwhelming and humbling to say the least. What a gift from a loving and faithful God.

Lance told me that he could so relate to the book of Job in the Bible now. He said that he had such a blessed life in SLO before joining the Army. Then in basic they took away everything he loved and he could not even see or talk to his family or friends. Then came war and things were so bad when he didn't think things could get even worse and he was constantly persecuted for being a Christian and for praising God even when things were so awful. Then the only family he had in Baghdad was killed and they were all separated and his body just ached in pain. But he said, he knows how Job's life ends and he knows that Job gets blessed better than he had been before and he ends up with a wife and children and wonderful blessings!! So Lance said "bring it on Lord, I will praise God's name no matter what he brings me. And I will look forward to the blessings he will give me too!" Pretty cool don't you think? I thought that was a great way to look at things! Here is Lance's new address if you would like to send him a letter or card (he did mention that he doesn't have much room for huge packages of snacks anymore):

VAMC Augusta Uptown Division PFC Lance Iunker Unit 3E 1 Freedom Way VA Medical Center Augusta, GA 30904

Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support for Lance and our family. We will never be able to thank you enough!

In His great and amazing love,


Anonymous said...

What if Lance reads this blog? The surprise may be short lived.

Jeannett Gibson said...

Ummm...I was thinking the same thing! If Lance reads this, the whole surprise will be ruined...!