Hundreds gathered Thursday evening at the Ardmore Convention Center to attend the latest installment of the Noble Foundation’s Profiles and Perspectives. There SSG (Ret.) Shilo Harris shared his story of recovery after surviving an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Iraq in 2007.
Harris suffered third-degree burns over 35% of his body, lost the tip of his nose and both ears, fractured his collarbone and C-7 vertebrae, and damaged his lungs. After going through 80 surgeries and years of physical therapy, he now travels the country sharing his story and inspiring others to work through their own difficulties.
Harris joined the military at the age of 27, shortly after the events of 9/11. Both his father and grandfather were in the military, and Harris said he must have “come by it naturally.”
“When I went into that recruiting office I knew what I was getting into,” Harris said. “I knew it was going to be war. In my mind I would much rather fight them over there than fight them here at home. That’s why I joined the military — to protect my family, to protect my home and my country.”
Harris was first stationed in Germany and his first deployment was to Iraq. His accident occurred during his second deployment. Ironically, this deployment was focused on the rebuilding effort.
“During this one we were rebuilding,” Harris said. “A lot of people don’t realize that. The military isn’t just there to tear things up and do police-style work. We’re also there for humanitarian service. Some of the things that were most rewarding to me were helping rebuild a school — delivering school supplies.”
On February 19, 2007 disaster struck.
“We got a call to investigate a possible IED,” Harris said. “I was the third Humvee in the convoy and my Humvee erupted. I lost three soldiers that day. I lost three friends.”
Harris actually survived two explosions. The first being the IED, and the second an explosion of an AT4 rocket launcher inside his vehicle. Of the five men in the vehicle only Harris and the driver survived.
Once he was safely evacuated he kept asking about the condition of his fellow soldiers who were also in the vehicle. No one would tell him. He finally asked a doctor who informed him he would “find out in a couple months.”
“I had no idea what that meant, but at that point I was medically induced into a coma and I spent the next 48 to 50 days there,” Harris said.
After awakening from the coma his memories of his road to recovery began. At first he found the physical therapy incredibly difficult and thought about giving up. Then his father came in one afternoon and asked him, “are you done soldier?”
“I knew exactly what he meant. I knew that if I was going to get anywhere in this recovery I had to get my butt up and do the work. If I wasn’t willing to do the work to improve my life, I’d be stuck in that bed.”
After persevering all the highs and lows that come with recovery and dealing with every setback, Harris has written a book about his journey entitled “Steel Will: My Journey Through Hell to Become the Man I was Meant to Be” and shares his story to motivate others to improve their own situations.
“There’s a lot of service members who come back injured and maimed and disabled and they think their life is over,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of them — young men and women. I can tell you this. There were many times when I hit bottom and i didn’t think I’d make it out. But I did. And I’m here to tell you even if you have limitations in your life you have to live to your abilities. But the key word is live. You have to live your life — one step in front of the other.”