This appears on philstar.com
A soldier’s (dis)ability
by rick olivares
Staff Sergeant Geruel Hipe remembers the date, time, and the exact moment he stepped on an improvised explosive device or IED.
It was a hot and humid Wednesday on the second of March just this year when his army unit was sent to clear an area in Maguindanao where Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters burned down a bank and killed a soldier in the process. To cover their retreat, the rebels planted over a hundred IEDS and landmines. The day before the unit assigned to clear the area took heavy fire with some more soldiers lost to explosives and snipers.
Needing relief, Hipe’s unit was sent in. Sixteen years in the army and the conflicting waves of fear and excitement that would engulf him every time he went on an operation didn’t change at all. Like every other time, he said his prayers then cleared his mind of all doubts. “You need to focus at the task at hand,” he shared in the vernacular. “Fear is something that is normal. You can contain it though; master it. Or else you will not be able to function.”
“We had cleared the area of most of the IEDs; a most tedious and tense task. By mid-afternoon, there was just one area that needed sweeping,” recalled Hipe who stole a glance at his wrist watch that read: 2:45pm. A few of his colleagues were ahead of him and took five beneath what was a berm. The sergeant took a step forward to join them when he stepped on something soft. His face froze in fear.
An explosion threw him back and he felt searing pain in his right foot. At least where his foot and leg used to be. Hipe was fully conscious the whole time despite being slightly concussed. He could hear his colleagues tell him that he was going to be all right but he wasn’t sure. The blast had his head and hearing ringing.
While he was being airlifted via helicopter to a nearby army base, he couldn’t help but think and chuckle, “You’re a lucky man.”
This was the second time an IED had detonated on him. The first was in Makilala, North Cotobato on the 26th of January, 2010, after he joined some of his platoon mates for a game of pick-up basketball in a nearby town. They were a mere 150 meters from their base when the truck they were riding hit an IED throwing them all in the air. Seven soldiers, including Hipe were injured but none too seriously.
“That’s twice now,” thought the 39-year old soldier. “I must be like a cat; I have nine lives.”
Sergeant Hipe had his right leg amputated from the knee downwards and he now wears a prosthesis to get around. “It took a while for my three children and wife to get used to the sight of this,” pointing to the metal and plastic contraption that is now his right leg. “They used to cry every night.”
But Hipe is made of sterner stuff. Now undergoing rehabilitation at the V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City, the sergeant is determined to finish his career with the army and undertake whatever is required of him. “I lost half of my leg,” he reasoned out. “It could have been worse – both my legs and maybe more. But I am fine. I just take a little longer in getting around.”
This past Thursday, October 6, Hipe and a couple of dozen other military men, all with wartime disabilities gathered at the Cuneta Astrodome to participate in the (Dis)Ability in Sports, a program that is a precursor to the celebration of the UK-Philippines Friendship Day in November. The Invictus Games of Prince Harry of Wales inspired British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad to organize (Dis)Ability in Sports and to take its relationship with the Armed Forces of the Philippines one step further outside military training and officer schools.
Hipe and other troops participated in relay activities and a fun and riveting pick-up game of basketball. Using a wheelchair to move up and down the court, Hipe hit a couple of baskets and showed his grit; just as he always did on the battlefield. He barked out crisp commands on who should cut in the lane, who’s open for a shot, and while battling for rebounds and loose balls.
Remarked Ambassador Ahmad, “It is a most inspiring sight to see men with disabilities continue to give it their all. There is something that we can all learn from their spirit.”
“You can’t let this get you down,” the soldier later said. “Life is already difficult. You can’t give up. What the army requires of me, I will do. My mission is not yet over.”