After nearly 30 operations, Joey Paulk began to resign himself to his appearance. But with help from a program that aids badly burned veterans, he received surgery that revived his self-confidence.

With the possible exception of burned aircrew of World War Two, the famous “guinea pigs” who allowed plastic surgeons to learn a new trade, I don’t think there have been as many soldiers who became burn casualties as in the last ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq. The insurgent use of mines and improvised explosives to target NATO troops in vehicles has left many soldiers with severe trauma as well as hideous burns.

Joey Paulk, a US military policeman, was one such soldier, whose vehicle was hit by a mine in Afghanistan in 2007. The explosion ignited the vehicle’s gasoline tank, leaving Paul without his fingers and with his face severely deformed. His recovery included over thirty surgeries.

In a wonderful and moving article in the New York Times, James Dao tells the story of Joey Paulk and how medical science has helped the many soldiers like him. An inspiring read.

Kudos to the NYT also for their video series, “The Hard Road Back: Scars of Battle”. These men and women will be continuing their battles years after Iraq and Afghanistan are done, for better or worse. We can’t afford to forget them.