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East Tennessee trauma surgeon reflects on 20 years since start of Iraq War

On March 20, 2003, The U.S. began a military operation in Iraq with the intention of toppling Saddam Hussein from power.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Iraq War started on March 20, 2003, and lasted nearly eight years. Before it was over, around 4,400 U.S. Servicemen and servicewomen were killed and thousands of others had life-changing injuries.

Colonel Richard Briggs (R - Knoxville), now a Tennessee State Senator, was a trauma surgeon during the war and saw thousands of victims including well-known veteran journalist Bob Woodruff.

In 2006, Woodruff and his photographer were seriously injured after a roadside bomb went off.

"It was a tremendous explosion," said Col. Briggs. "It blew the helmet off his head and both he and his cameraman suffered substantial head injuries."

Colonel Briggs went to work trying to save Woodruff by retrieving the gravel lodged in his neck. He also assisted the neurosurgeon on the brain surgery to save Woodruff.

"A good portion of his skull on the left-hand side had been blown away," said Col. Briggs. "I had gotten in contact with his wife by satellite phone told her to expect the worst."

Woodruff went through many extensive surgeries and was eventually brought back to the U.S., to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Miraculously, he and his photographer have both made a nearly-full recovery today.

"Sometimes, I really like being wrong as a doctor," said Col. Briggs. "I think there were a lot of doctors were amazed by this, not just me. He hasn't made 100% recovery, but I would say he's 90 or 95% recovered from this. If you meet him today and talk to him today, you really can't see that he had an injury like that."

Colonel Briggs also worked with Woodruff's wife, Lee, speaking at conventions all over the nation.

"I think one of the most heartwarming moments — she sent me a video. They had four children, and they're teaching him to regain his speech. And the five-year-old was trying to get him to say 'belt buckle' and he was having difficulty. And finally, the seven-year-old said, 'Daddy, listen to me very carefully. Belt buckle.' And he said it perfectly well," said Briggs. "And the little girls just fell on him and said, 'Daddy, you did it, you did it.' And so it was really heartwarming video that she sent. They have little girls involved in their daddy's recovery from a very severe head injury."

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