Aaron Gauthier: A Hero Comes Home
What goes into the decision to join the U.S. Army during a time of war? For one young man this was the perfect time, maybe his only time to fight for a country for which he is proud.
Aaron Gauthier, son of David and Terrie Gauthier of Bridge City, was married, majoring in History at college and running his own tax business when his long time fascination with history and war came to a head.
“I had spent so much time talking to old World War II veterans and felt like I wanted to do it. It seemed like the right thing to do for my country. After talking with them I had such a great respect for them. I thought, ‘If I don’t it now, when?’” explained Gauthier recently.
By October 2007, that mind set had catapulted Aaron into the Infantry division of the Army and stationed him in Germany. The 24 year old husband, son and father was on his way to experiencing history in the making. From Germany he was deployed to Afghanistan where the experiences of war were no longer tales of old men but realities of his every day life. His wife, Abigail, who was supposed to be stationed with him in Germany had yet to have all her paperwork cleared to do so. Unlike other army wives who received updates from the field, Abigail’s experience was turning out to be different as well.
“I didn’t tell her anything,” said Gauthier referring to what he was experiencing in combat, “I didn’t want to give her reasons to worry. I was over here, she didn’t have to be.” For Abigail, her husband’s choice was a source of pride. “I can’t say I was really shocked when he decided to join. I actually felt a mix of emotions. He was always into history. It was just an honorable thing for him to do.” She expressed the obvious, that those not in combat still worry, “I chose to not worry about anything else but my family, that was my priority.”
As Aaron fought in Afghanistan and continued the push to get his wife closer to him in Germany, 20 months went by. Their daughter, Amy, was growing and life was going on at its normal pace as life will do in times of war or peace.
That life, as it was and as he knew it, for Gauthier was abruptly changed. November 2008, while holding a sniper’s position, the unit with which he served came under RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) attack. Though the RPGs initially were only hitting around them they were getting closer. Gauthier’s instincts kicked in and he dove away from the sniper’s position falling 15 feet to a solid, rocky crevice below the point. His life was spared by seconds; his shoulder, elbow and ankle were not.
“The fall dislocated my shoulder, broke my elbow and my ankle. I was also knocked unconscious for an undetermined amount of time,” Gauthier explained.
The months following his combat related injury were not simple. It took months to determine the extent of the injury to his ankle which has left him using a cane at the ripe age of 27. “I have had two surgeries. It would take more to try and repair it any more and there would be no guarantee,” explained Gauthier when asked if his disabling injury was permanent. His shoulder also still has range of motion issues. In his unit or 42 only 30 remained. Four had died and 8 were wounded.
During those months of limbo and pain, Gauthier took a desk job. Abigail finally made the move through red tape to Germany. Their time there was wonderful for their family. “Being in Europe was a great experience for our family,” smiled Gauthier with Abigail in full agreement. The history loving American visited many of the places the World War II vets saw in their day. They also added another member to their young crew with the birth of a son, Jaxson who is now 19 months old.
Less than a month ago, this family of four, walked into Gauthier’s mother and father’s back yard. They took a thirty hour trip home, a month ahead of schedule, without letting the family know. Their hope of it being a surprise was not in vain, “I think I about gave my dad a heart attack,” smiled Gauthier. “And then I heard mom and Victoria (Aaron’s younger sister) screaming from inside the house, ‘It’s Aaron. It’s Aaron!’”
Gauthier is happy to be home. The army made the decision to retire him because of the effect of his injuries.
So what does the future hold?
“We have thousands of options and we are keeping them all open,” explained Gauthier. “Right now, I plan to look at getting a job and getting back in school. I can take my time going to school.
“Texas is a great state to live in when it comes to the military and college.” Gauthier is referring to the Hazelwood Act that grants 158 college credit hours to military personnel combined with the 36 months of free school through the GI Bill. With those credits in mind, Gauthier said his original plans haven’t really changed.
“A master, then a Phd. in History, ultimately become a professor of History. I want to do that when I am older, I don’t really want to be a young professor.”
He admits there has been psychological struggles that are typical of the residue of seeing combat. “I’ve seen plenty of guys that come home and aren’t able to function at all. I have even helped some of them.” The couple admit there were times it was tough on their relationship. The divorce rate remains high among enlisted who have seen combat.
“We have just stayed open with each other in everything,” Gauthier said. Abigail agrees, “We talked about everything and used things we learned in premarital counseling.”
“I am happier than I have been in a long time and our marriage is stronger than ever!” Gauthier said, as he hugged Abigail’s shoulder.
Not many soldier stories can end on an up note. Gauthier is permanently injured, still will deal with insurance issues and red tape, but is also to be awarded with the Army Commendation Medal or Arcom presented only to members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves by an act of heroism, extraordinary achievement or meritorious service which has been of mutual benefit to a friendly nation and the United states.
It was determined Gauthier’s standard of excellence and heroism meets this criteria. Humbly his perspective is, “I am not in great shape, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. ‘Yea America!”’ he added. Abigail smiled and said, “He is doing great, but it’s been a long process.
“He got the war– the experience– he wanted but we are so grateful to be home.”
We as society do honor and welcome him home.