Home' Army News : March 29th 2012 Contents Army March 29, 2012
Cpl Melanie Schinkel
"FIRSTLY you must focus on
yourself -- you need to get better.
Then you can figure out what to
do with your military career. Then
you can understand whether or
not you're capable of doing the
job you once did or accept that
you have to make a compromise."
That's the rehabilitation advice
of Sgt Sarah Webster, the first
Australian woman to be wounded
by enemy action since the Vietnam
Wa r.After winning four gold and two
silver medals at the recent United
States Marine Corps' Trials, Sgt
Webster, who underwent a five-year
recovery from injuries sustained
by a rocket attack during her 2006
deployment to Iraq, offered those
words of advice to military person-
nel rehabilitating from life-changing
The trials were hosted by the
US Marine Corps Wounded Warrior
Regt and Sgt Webster, 31, of 138 Sig
Sqn, was the top performer out of the
seven ADF personnel who competed
at Camp Pendleton near San Diego.
She said she was surprised to
win gold in the 50m freestyle, 100m,
200m and 1500m track events and
silver in the 100m freestyle and
"It felt pretty good to win but for
me the event wasn't about winning
medals. The best thing I got out of
participating was being able to talk
to other allied forces and US person-
nel who had been through similar
situations to me," she said.
In fact, Sgt Webster was so unat-
tached to her hard-earned awards
that she gave some away.
"I gave a few of my medals to
guys on the allied team who couldn't
compete because they were injured
during the training period. A US liai-
son officer, who also couldn't com-
pete, was a keen collector of military
memorabilia, so I gave him one as a
souvenir, too," Sgt Webster said.
"It just seemed like the right
thing to do. I had won six medals
that were probably just going to sit
inside a drawer. I thought I might
as well give them to someone who
would really appreciate them by put-
ting them on display or keeping them
as collector's items.
"There were so many inspiring
people at the trials. I met one young
guy who, among other injuries,
had a broken back and double lung
transplant and was told he would
never walk again. Do you think that
stopped him? He was up and about,
swimming in the pool and compet-
ing -- it was amazing to watch people
with a range of disabilities getting on
with their lives and succeeding."
The recovery road hasn't been
easy for Sgt Webster. On August 14,
2006, she sustained an open skull
fracture, torn spleen, dislocated hip,
broken kneecap and blunt force trau-
ma to her lower leg after a 122mm
rocket exploded outside her room in
Iraq.She was sound asleep when the
rocket crashed into the Australian
Life-threatening wounds couldn't keep Sgt Sarah Webster down
Security Detachment compound.
"I was concussed by the impact,
so I didn't wake up immediately.
Actually, I didn't really come around
until after surgery," she said.
"The Americans came to my aid
and I was immediately taken to their
combat support hospital. Australia
didn't have any embedded staff in
the hospital at the time, so I was
very thankful to the American medi-
cal staff for their professionalism
and support in Iraq and later on in
She spent about two days in the
combat support hospital and 10 days
in a medical facility in Germany
before she was stable enough to
return to Townsville for further treat-
"Army got me through all my
recovery and rehabilitation, which
involved a combination of physi-
otherapy, hydrotherapy and bal-
ance classes. I couldn't sit up for
about six weeks. After eight weeks
I was relearning to walk -- that real-
ly sucked. It was a very frustrating
period for me," she said.
"I had to tell myself 'if you want
to recover properly and keep doing
your job, you must put in the mas-
sive effort required to do that. Yes,
you do want to keep your job and
you do want to deploy overseas
again and do that job to its fullest
After just five months of recov-
ery, Sgt Webster's dedication and
determination brought her back to
full-time work. Three months later
she was working out in the field and
in 2008 she deployed to Afghanistan
for six months.
"Going back to work was a bit
strange at first because I didn't have
anyone I could relate to. People
were awkward because they didn't
know how to act around me, but
eventually things went back to nor-
mal," she said.
"I certainly wasn't command's
first choice to send back into a
combat zone but I pushed for it and
eventually I was deemed suitable for
the job and they let me go.
"Deploying again really helped
me. I think if I hadn't of gone it
would have always bothered me not
knowing whether I could cope in
that environment again. It was defi-
nitely something I needed to do."
Looking towards the future, Sgt
Webster's triumph at the US Marine
Corps' Trials has motivated her to
develop her swimming skills further
in hopes of competing again next
She is also investigating how she
can provide support and assistance
to other injured military personnel
during their rehabilitation.
"I'm looking into how I can get
involved in Defence's rehabilitation
and recovery process. Defence has
three rehabilitation and recovery
centres and I'd love to be posted to
one of those facilities," she said.
"I've been through the process
and made my way back to work -- it
would be nice to help others travel
down that path to recovery."
Although Sgt Webster's rehabili-
tation has progressed well, she still
suffers from ongoing orthopaedic
issues and degenerative arthritis as a
result of the 2006 rocket attack.
Before: Then-Cpl Sarah Webster is pictured here supporting SecDet operations
in Iraq in 2006 before being wounded in a rocket attack.
After: Sgt Sarah Webster won four gold and two silver medals at the
US Marine Corps Trials last month.
Photo by AB Richard Cordell
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