As I mentioned in last week’s column, I recently attended the Dallas-Fort Worth Writers’ Conference. In addition to all the wonderful people I met, informational classes and lectures I attended, we were also treated to some pretty kick-ass keynote speeches. I missed Kevin J. Anderson as I was pitching to an agent at the time- major bummer as I am a fan and he’s written a ridonkulous number of cool books. However, I did get to hear Charlaine Harris’ speech. She’s adorable, folks, just adorable. I am so happy for all her success, she seems to genuinely deserve it. You go, girl.

This column isn’t about Kevin or Charlaine though. It’s about Army Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris. He is the author of the memoir Steel Will. He is a veteran, a survivor, and, most of all, a true embodiment of the best kind of patriotism.

After 9/11 it was the most natural thing in the world for Harris to enlist in the Army. The father of five came from a military family. In his own words, “I wanted a gun in my hand and boots on the ground” and that was what he got, serving two tours in Iraq. In the first he  apprehended suspects and during the second he spent time rebuilding, outfitting schools, and training future local police officers. He mentioned how good it was for him to see both sides: the tearing down and the rebuilding.

Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris’ Humvee hit an IED in February 2007. His comrades thought he was dead. Then the artillery his vehicle carried exploded, creating a second fireball. If he hadn’t been dead before it could be reasoned he was definitely deceased now. Or so his comrades thought… until he stood up. Even then he survived a barrage of bullets as all the individual rounds he and his fellows in the truck carried exploded in the extreme heat. Somehow, Harris avoided being shot, instead, he burned. He lost one third of his skin to third degree burns, he lost his ears, part of his nose, and four fingers. He spent fifty days in a hellish medically induced coma to allow his burns to heal without driving him mad. Worse, he lost three of his best friends and, indirectly, his marriage.

Yet, he stepped on to the stage at our conference with a smile, a warm sense of humor, a renewed faith in God, and prosthetic Spock ears. You have to love a man who can give so much for his country and still laugh– even at himself.

I am sure Staff Sergeant Harris and I would have a tricky time at dinner. He is a deeply religious man whereas God and I have a sort of don’t ask, don’t tell policy in place. He’s a self described red-neck and I am a city-suburb kind of girl. He listens to country, but I need my metal. I would hazard that his politics and mine do not exactly match up.

Then again, maybe we would do just fine. He’s a father of five. I am a mother of three. We both love this country very much, and apparently, Star Trek. And his current call to duty is a hot button topic of mine- the way we care for our troops once they come home. We are cutting VA hospitals’ budgets and veterans’ services to the bone. One percent of America goes to war, the rest of us just go shopping. Where is the sense of shared responsibility of WWII? Where is the welcome home, the respite our wounded warriors are due? Why aren’t the rest of us sacrificing for our troops? The same politicians who vote to go to war are the very ones voting to cut veterans’ support once our soldiers are home again. WHAT?!?

Harris told us that every day we lose twenty-two combat veterans to suicide. TWENTY-TWO!!!! That’s over 8,000 a year. They survived war, but peace at home killed them? Shame on us. He wrote his book Steel Will to help reach out to his brothers and sisters. They aren’t alone. They can find support. Their country has not abandoned them. His passion is an organization called the Patriot Project which seeks to provide chiropatric services to veterans and their families.

I hope somewhere out there you decide to buy his book. I hope you are moved to care about our soldiers, not just the fallen ones, but the ones too strong to die, the damaged ones that come home and inconveniently need our help- our government funded programs to help them get back on their feet.

Twenty-two a day.

And every one with a story, a family, a sacrifice and all for America, all for us. Twenty-two a day. Shame on us.

I chose John Mellencamp’s song Human Wheels to honor Shilo Harris. Every hero is, at their core, simply an ordinary man or woman who through the grace of God or their own innate stubbornness (or both) responded to an extreme circumstance with tremendous valor. Somehow, life went on. Ornery,  cantankerous, too tough to kill, the wheel keeps on spinning. Thank you for your service, Staff Sergeant Harris, may the light find your face. May life go on. May it be good.

Click here to hear Human Wheels


 “Human Wheels”

This land today, shall draw its last breath
And take into its ancient depths
This frail reminder of its giant, dreaming self.
While I, with human-hindered eyes
Unequal to the sweeping curve of life,
Stand on this single print of time.Human wheels spin round and round
While the clock keeps the pace.
Human wheels spin round and round
Help the light to my face.That time, today, no triumph gains
At this short success of age.
This pale reflection of its brave and
Blundering deed.
For I, descend from this vault,
Now dreams beyond my earthly fault
Knowledge, sure, from the seed.Human wheels spin round and round
While the clock keeps the pace.
Human wheels spin round and round
Help the light to my face.This land, today, my tears shall taste
And take into its dark embrace.
This love, who in my beating heart endures,
Assured, by every sun that burns,
The dust to which this flesh shall return.
It is the ancient, dreaming dust of God.Human wheels spin round and round
While the clock keeps the pace.
Human wheels spin round and round
Help the light to my face.
Human wheels spin round and round
While the clock keeps the pace.
Human wheels spin round and round
Help the light to my face.


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner