Freedom is NOT FREE: Up front and Personal with Wounded Warrior Staff Sergeant Lani Abalama

By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., M.S.

Many Americans have lost their lives and have been wounded protecting our freedoms. I had the opportunity to sit next to wounded warrior, Staff Sergeant Lani Abalama who is currently stationed at Fort Knox at the 2011 Vets ‘n Vettes.

Staff Sgt. Abalama agreed to let me interview him while we were at lunch. I jokingly accused Staff Sgt. Abalama of being very confused when he told me he had first served in the Marines for 7 ½ years and then transferred to the Army. He can officially retire from the military in 7 years but I got the impression that Staff Sgt. Abalama loved to serve our country. Staff Sgt. Abalama has been deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once.

On August 1, Staff Sgt. Abalama was stationed in Afghanistan with the First Platoon of Charlie Company, 1/26th Infantry.  According to a story at written by Bill Ardolino, “Two men, posing as maintenance workers for a mountaintop cell tower outside the Afghan village of Musa Khel, had shaken hands and shared a meal with the First Platoon of Charlie Company, 1/26th Infantry. But as the troops began winding their way downhill the night of Aug. 1, the repairmen started tossing grenades down the mountain after them. At least four troops were wounded. One U.S. staff sergeant, Lani Abalama, was riddled with shrapnel in one arm and both his legs. The Americans were pinned to the side of a ridge with a bad angle for return fire. They needed air support.”


Staff Sgt. Abalama said a grenade rolled within 4 inches of his foot when the grenade exploded. Shrapnel penetrated three of his four limbs.  Fortunately, a pair of small armed-reconnaissance helicopters were called in to attack the insurgents to protect “the troops who were being pelted with grenades” so medevac helicopters could retrieve the injured troops.  Firing live ammo so close to our troops is very tricky but it is a true testament of how effectively trained our military men and women are.

The troops had to be extracted off a rocky mountaintop. The pilot meticulously eased the medical helicopter to a hover about 70 feet above the injured troops.  A medic roped down to the stricken platoon and prepared the troops for extraction. It was pitch black (Oops! No street lights on the side of a rocky ridge in Afghanistan). The successful landing of the medic on the mountaintop was extremely difficult, according to Ardolino. All of the injured troops had to be hoisted into the two waiting helicopters. The extraction took about 45 minutes.

Back in the USA and on the Mend

Staff Sgt. Alabama was the most seriously injured and required immediate surgery before he was sent back to the US. He went to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio then was moved to Fort Knox for his rehab.  Staff Sgt. Alabama thought his medical care “had been incredible at every stage of his treatment.”  He’s currently walking with a cane and hoping to return to his command soon.  He thinks his platoon will be rotating back to the US before he be completely rehabbed. But he said he did not like to be in the US while his platoon was working hard in Afghanistan.  In fact, he did not want to be sent back to the states for his rehab, but he had no choice but to seek treatment in order to be able to get back to work quicker.

Wounded Warrior: A Father and Husband

Staff Sgt. Alabama is married to another soldier who works with chemical warfare. They have three young daughters. Since both could be deployed at the same time they have to make special arrangements with who will take care of the children if a double deployment happens. Both are currently stationed at Fort Knox.

Our Military Deserves our Thanks and Prayers!

We sit in our cushy homes, watching reality TV, eating bon bons, walking our cats and dogs, eating out at the local fast food chain,  while our troops are sitting on the side of some rocky mountain in Afghanistan, eating MREs, maybe freezing their butts off and hoping that a handful of grenades aren’t going to be rolled down the path and explode rocking their bits and pieces of shrapnel.  Instead of spending $20 bucks on something you clearly don’t need, why don’t you donate the $20  to the Wounded Warrior Project at to save THANK YOU to our military men and women who need our help!

Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N, is a registered dietitian ( who has been teaching healthy lifestyles strategies to consumers for over 35+ years. Check out Barbara’s new healthy lifestyles website: