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Stabbings, blast injuries can't keep soldier mom down

WASHINGTON - Army Staff Sgt. Tara Harrilson was wounded three times in Afghanistan, the first time when she was stabbed while on a Special Forces mission in 2004.

"I was outside the wire with my team, and it was pretty much – long story, short – it was a setup, and there were a whole lot of bad men and four of us," the 27-year-old native of Gaithersburg, Md., said recently. 

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press
Army Staff Sgt. Tara Harrilson at Walter Reed Medical Center on Sept. 26. 

"I didn't realize it until afterward, but I had been stabbed several times from different angles while trying to get out of the area," she said. "I can't go into more details than that."

Tara was wounded two more times in a series of explosions in 2005. In one of them, some body armor was blown off a hook and landed on top of her head, herniating her brain into her neck and causing a spinal cord injury. She also suffered shrapnel wounds on her arms, legs and chest in the explosions.

"I've lost a lot of vision in my left eye, hearing in the left ear," she said. "I can use my left side pretty good, just not real fine, like to grip and open a bottle, and I've lost a lot of feeling in it."

'A slow process'
Tara, who walks with a cane, is still recovering from her wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"I think I'm doing really good for someone who just had brain surgery," she said.

She faces possibly more surgery on her brain, surgery on her spine, and a lot of physical therapy.

"It's a slow process, and it can get frustrating," she said. "Some days are better than others."

One challenge is her lengthy commute for treatment. The closest affordable housing the Army could find for Tara and her family was at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., 50 grueling miles up Interstate 270 from Walter Reed.

"It's not the distance," she said. "It's the traffic that's the killer."

Tara has to allow two and a half hours in the morning to get to Walter Reed, and it can take up to two hours to get home at night. She can't drive because of her injuries and depends on her husband or her brother to get her back and forth as often as five times a week.

"It's really hard," she said.

'A lot to be thankful for'

While she struggles to recover from her wounds, Tara and her husband are raising their three daughters, ages 2 to 7.

"Yes, all girls, and a lot of hair to do in the mornings," she said, laughing. "They've really sacrificed a lot, but they've been dealing with it real good, and they're interested in all the medical stuff that's going on with me."

Tara, who enlisted in the Army right out of high school, nine years ago, appears remarkably sanguine for someone who has trouble making ends meet on her Army paycheck and has no idea what's in her future.

"I'm getting to see my kids go to school and come home and swim in the pool, and that's a lot to be thankful for, because it could have been a lot worse," she said.