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Of his travels, perhaps the most important was in early November. That's when Young went to Kentucky to support his brother as he shipped out to Iraq.
On a recent Saturday night, Soden sauntered up to a pair of men threatening each other with pool cues in the back room of the Granfalloon sports bar on the Plaza. He wore a fleece jacket and a backward ball cap. His hair had grown long, and he'd sprouted an unruly red beard. As the club's hired muscle, he dressed more casually than the crowd of manicured men and primped party girls. "Easy," Soden barked at the would-be fighters. "Nobody wants any trouble."
Both pool players were tanked on Red Bull and vodka. They reluctantly agreed to go back to their game. Soden stuck his hand in his pockets and watched them. Suddenly, one of them surged toward his opponent. Soden stepped forward and put his hand on the man, blocking his way and pushing him backward toward a row of Golden Tee arcade games.
Calmly, Soden explained the situation: "You're being overly aggressive. That's why you are being kicked out." He pushed the guy through the bar and out to the street.
For Soden, the hardest part about recovery is having been sidelined from the action. At Fort Hood, he had spent nearly a year in a barracks filled with the injured. They were kept separate to keep the healthy troops from getting spooked. Unable to do physical training, he played video games, watched TV and gained 20 pounds.
After surgery, Soden spent three months in a wheelchair and on crutches, and another three months in physical therapy. He says his mobility is now just below average. The Army gave him a medical discharge in February 2005, and Soden moved into a loft apartment above his parents' garage in Kansas City. He hung an American flag and a picture of himself shaking hands with the president. He put his medals in a display case and put Purple Heart plates on his SUV.
He realized soon after returning that the Army had taught him skills considered worthless by corporate America. "Can assemble mounted machine gun blindfolded" and "Won't flinch in a firefight" aren't exactly résumé builders. At night, he worked shifts bouncing at clubs around the metro. During the day, he loafed.
He had trouble sleeping, sometimes flashing back to a real panic situation, sometimes imagining an attack returning to the trigger in the back of the Humvee or struggling to put on night-vision goggles while under fire, searching endlessly for a weapon that goes unfound. He battled guilt and depression about not being as badly injured as Young and other friends. "I came out reasonably well for the situation I was in, compared to a lot of guys," Soden says. "I know the guys that didn't get hurt at all feel real bad, but I feel worse because I was sitting there and I had seen all the people who had been really badly hurt."
In early summer, he visited Young at his new home, which was equipped with long wheelchair ramps. "It was really awkward. Not awkward in the sense of our friendship. I just hadn't seen him in the wheelchair or seen him with a disability. It really kind of hurt." He stood as a groomsman in the Youngs' August wedding. But his friend's injury haunted him. "To help him move, it really gets to me sometimes," Soden says. "It breaks my heart to see him [injured] because he is such a good friend."