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Long Beach kicks off Wounded Warriors program

Tara Hutchinson, 33, walks her dogs Thursday in

Tara Hutchinson, 33, walks her dogs Thursday in San Antonio, Texas. (July 22, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

The City of Long Beach today begins hosting 34 “wounded warriors,” U.S. servicemen and women injured in the line of duty, along with family and friends as part of a four-day program sponsored by the volunteer Long Beach Waterfront Warriors. About 115 people are traveling to Long Beach, including military personnel undergoing treatment or rehab at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The Long Beach event is one of several taking place throughout Nassau and Suffolk to salute wounded veterans.

Here are the stories of two wounded warriors who will be at the City of Long Beach:

U.S. Army Sgt. Andrew Peden, 29, of Silver Spring, MD. Lost his left leg after he was injured by an IED in Afghanistan

It was supposed to be a routine patrol, but in the southern province of Kandahar in Afghanistan, nothing is routine. U.S. Army Sgt. Andrew Peden and his squad were on foot patrol March 24, walking near a mud wall between two tilled grape fields.

Peden stepped on an improvised explosive device, but only part of the bomb detonated. But the danger was not over. Minutes later, a firefight with insurgents ensued.

When the smoke cleared, Peden said he emerged from a daze and “realized that my body was burning, my legs hurt. The initial blast severed my left foot on the scene . . . my right side was pretty much ripped open.”

Peden was taken to Walter Reed, where surgeons amputated his left leg below the knee.

By May, the former Colorado high school soccer player received a prosthetic leg and began to learn how to walk again. His condition has improved enough so that he is now an outpatient but still requires physical therapy for 1½ to two hours a day.

Last week, he celebrated a milestone. Peden moved into an apartment off the grounds of the center. “I still continue with rehabilitation but I’m able to walk almost as well as before the injury,” he said, adding that the support of his family, his girlfriend, Jennifer Mercado, and the April birth of their daughter, Elizabeth Grace, has given him new goals.

He wants to be able to five miles or walk 10 to 12 miles with his prosthetic. “ just looking forward to getting myself healed and back to a normal routine before she gets too big and can outrun me,” said Peden, who enlisted when he was 24, adding he wants to remain on active duty because it’s the best career option and for the “love of the job.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class Staff Sgt., retired, Tara Hutchinson, 33, of San Antonio, Texas. Right leg amputated after a bomb attack in Baghdad

It will be a Valentine’s Day that retired U.S. Army Sgt. Tara Hutchinson will never forget.

In January 2006, Hutchinson was deployed to Baghdad with a military police company assigned to assess Iraqi police stations.

On Feb. 14, she set out from Camp Liberty with three others when about seven miles out a roadside bomb exploded under them and smoke filled their Humvee. Besides the traumatic wound to her right leg, she suffered brain injury. “My brain was without oxygen for five minutes. They almost couldn’t revive me,” she said.

Back in Texas, her leg was amputated a few inches below her hip but because of the brain injury she also suffered coordination and memory loss. After attempts to use a prosthetic didn’t work out, she even underwent surgery to accommodate an artificial limb, but she hasn’t tried again.

Despite her pain, she stopped taking narcotics because she didn’t like the side effects. Late last year, she took a break from rehabilitation amid her divorce, but is considering going back this fall.

If her injuries have slowed her down, it doesn’t show. Hutchinson has gone skiing in Aspen, hand-cycled her way through a marathon in Miami, and launched her own jewelry business. She also stays active by rowing and swimming.

“Sports have really been the way that I’ve come back out of myself,” she said. “When you participate in sports, it’s amazing to push yourself a little bit and to see that you accomplish something, and to look back and see you’ve accomplished a whole lot.”

And she strives to discover new places. This summer, she’s visiting Colorado, St. Maarten and Long Beach, where she’s thinking she might take up water skiing. “It’s one more thing that I’ve never tried. I’m definitely willing to try it.”

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