CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — A Fort Bragg soldier injured more than six years ago in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan is breathing easier after a free surgery to repair his nose, which was damaged when he slammed into a machine gun.
Shannon Cruz, 40, of Fayetteville admired his new nose earlier this week in the mirror at a plastic surgeon's office in Chapel Hill, who operated on the chief warrant officer as part of a program called Faces of Honor.
"It was weird. I didn't realize how bad it was. I got accustomed to not being able to breathe out of the left side," said Cruz, who has served nine tours of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Bosnia. "It's like getting a shot of oxygen."
Cruz was in the Air Force when the Taliban attacked his team in Uruzgan province. The enemy attacked with a Soviet heavy machine gun, disabling their vehicle and blowing out its tires. He slammed into an M240 machine gun, which weighs about 35 pounds. The impact not only broke the bone in his nose but moved the cartilage so that his left nostril was blocked, leaving him unable to breathe through that side.
A military doctor operated on Cruz in 2006, but within six months the problem returned, Cruz said. He became accustomed to waking up several times a night, unable to breathe, and his wife adjusted to a husband with a serious snoring problem.
Just a few weeks ago, a mental health counselor at Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg told Cruz about Faces of Honor, a program operated by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. It's an offshoot of the academy's program Face to Face, which helps victims of domestic violence.
Faces of Honor, which the academy began in 2009, provides free medical and surgical help to veterans who injured their face or neck in Iraq or Afghanistan.