Ian Placek was in Fort Bliss, Texas, on Tuesday. He wanted to be there.
Placek, 23, of Bismarck, was injured Dec. 3 when a roadside bomb hit the vehicle he was in, killing two of his fellow North Dakota National Guard soldiers.
Tyler Orgaard, 20, of Bismarck and Darren Linde, 41, of Devils Lake were killed in the attack.
Placek flew to Texas to greet the members of 818th Engineer Company (Sapper), about 100 in all, who returned after nearly a year’s deployment in Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, traveled to Texas to meet the unit and said there were mixed emotions.
“You’re finally back in the United States and soon will be reunited with your friends and family. At the same time, I know the absence of two of your brothers is still very much felt,” he said.
Placek suffered burns to his back, side and wrist, and an injury to an ankle that has required two surgeries.
Initially, he said doctors were concerned about damage to his lungs from smoke inhalation, but that cleared up.
After initial medical treatment at Landstuhl Regional Center in Germany, the native of Crosby was transferred to Fort Riley, Kan., for additional treatment.
Placek is back in Bismarck, where he is recovering from his injuries, doing physical therapy on his own and working at the National Guard Armory doing administrative work for the 68th Troop Command.
He is still on crutches and wearing a boot on his injured foot. Placek said he can put about 25 percent of his weight on the foot, enough to balance himself, but hopes he will be able to do away with the crutches in about a month.
Placek is now assigned to a warrior transformation battalion at Fort Riley while he does his remote care and physical therapy.
He said he will remain attached to the Fort Riley unit until he gets medical clearance, “then I’ll be home for good.”
Placek enlisted in the Guard during his senior year of high school in 2007.
After completing basic train, he moved to Bismarck and attended Bismarck State College’s lineman program.
He said it was a tough sell with his parents when he told them he wanted to join the Guard.
“I was 17, so I needed their permission, and they said no,” Placek said Thursday in a phone interview.
“I told them I’d join anyway once I turned 18,” he said.
They reluctantly agreed to give their permission.
Still, he said his parents, Bonnie and Toby, who still live in Crosby, were worried.
“I told them not to worry ... I wasn’t going to get deployed ... I wasn’t going to get hurt ... here I am,” he said.
Placek, who attended the funerals of both Orgaard and Linde, said he wanted to be in Texas when his unit set foot back on U.S. soil.
“There were a lot of surprised looks ... but I wanted to be the first to welcome them home,” he said.
Placek declined interviews in the first couple of weeks after returning to the U.S. He said between a severe concussion and the pain medication, he wasn’t up to talking.
The concussion affected his short-term memory, making it difficult to remember little things.
“One day I woke up, and it all came back,” he said.
Placek said he would rather not talk in detail about the attack that killed two of his friends, out of respect for their families.
“These guys get to be family,” he said. “You’re with them 24 hours a day, you sleep with them in the desert ... I wouldn’t have wanted to be there with any other group of guys,” he said.
“You trust the guys on your left, you trust the guys on your right; that’s the way it should be in a combat zone.”
Through his recovery, Placek said family and friends — and his girlfriend of 2½ years, Summer Fields, have been phenomenal.
He said the support from them, as well as from the National Guard, has been nothing short of overwhelming.
And the support from his employer, Falkirk Mine, has been outstanding.
He said mine officials check with him regularly to see how he is recovering, and to let him know his job will be waiting when he recovers.
Placek said he started the job in the de-watering unit there seven months before getting his orders.
He said even the soldiers at Fort Riley commented to him on how much they were impressed with the support back in North Dakota.
“Everyone, the National Guard, my family, friends, they’ve been great,” he said.
Placek said he sensed more than a bit of envy from those at Fort Riley when it came to the support he has received from back home.
“I told them that’s how we do things in North Dakota. We take care of each other,” he said.