Former Deni Back thankful for friends, family back home
Deni Saucedo (formerly Back) is a long way from northwest Colorado. But, in some ways, she feels closer than ever to her hometown of Meeker.
Deni is staying with her husband, Daniel, in housing for military personnel and their families in Washington, D.C., where Daniel is an outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Daniel, a staff sergeant in the Army, was seriously wounded during a raid July 27 in Iraq.
Back home, Deni has had the support of her family — her parents, George and Peggy Back live in Meeker — and her friends. Deni graduated from Meeker High School in 1998.
“The community has been awesome,” Deni said. “We’ve received a ton of cards.”
Her mother, Peggy, said the community’s outpouring of support has meant a lot to Deni and Daniel.
“They have enjoyed the cards and letters that have been sent, and Deni told me that she is so thankful to be from a small community and knows that people sincerely care for them,” Peggy said. “They send their thanks.”
Deni and Daniel met when she was attending college in Colorado Springs and he was stationed at nearby Fort Carson. They were married at Campbell Creek Ranch in Rio Blanco County.
Being a military wife, and with her husband serving in a war zone, she knew he was in harm’s way.
“It’s always there,” Deni said. “You dread getting that phone call. You just try to think, it could happen, but it’s not going to. You try to stay positive. You just know it’s in God’s hands.”
Daniel was the only U.S. soldier wounded during a morning mission — it was nighttime back in the States — when he led a raid on a house where suspected insurgents were holed up.
“It was a high-priority mission,” Deni said. “Daniel was the first one in the door. They were set up. They (the insurgents) were ready for a gunfight.”
The bullet entered the inside of Daniel’s left thigh, and exited through the buttocks.
“It bounced around in there, and it did a lot of damage,” said Deni’s father, George.
Daniel was wearing an armored plate that protected his upper body.
“The insurgents know they (U.S. soldiers) do not have any body armor on the lower part of their body, so that’s where they shoot,” Deni said. “The first bullet, that’s where they hit him. Two more rounds went into his side plate, so they didn’t go in.”
Deni said Daniel remembers everything that happened, up to a point.
“He remembers all of it, until they put him on the chopper (and flew him to a hospital),” she said. “They took him to the nearest town. They did emergency surgery there. That’s all he remembers. When he woke up, he was in Germany.”
Daniel remembers the moment he was wounded.
“He said it felt like a firecracker going off in your hand,” Deni said. “He told his men to get him up, and they pulled him out. They applied a tourniquet and waited for the helicopter. He was the only one hit.
“He said he didn’t feel any pain,” she said. “I think it was the firefight, the adrenaline. They had to give him a blood transfusion at that first hospital. He lost a lot of blood.”
Deni said the gun battle lasted until late into the afternoon.
“There were at least six guys in the house they went into,” she said. “They were all killed.”
Deni was home in Copperas Cove, Texas, near Fort Hood Army base, with the couple’s young daughter, Sineca, when she received the dreaded phone call telling her Daniel had been wounded.
“I got a phone call from the base commander,” Deni said. “He gave me a brief rundown and said that Daniel had been shot. It was definitely a phone call you never want to think about getting. I almost passed out. They had very little information, so I had all of these crazy thoughts in my mind.”
Daniel’s condition was serious, but stable. Deni had actually talked to him the day before he was shot, during a video teleconference at Fort Hood. The next time she talked to him, Daniel was at a military hospital in Germany.
“I could talk to him, he could hear me, but he still had the breathing tube in,” Deni said.
On Aug. 1, Deni arrived at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., along with Daniel’s parents, who live in Texas. Deni wasn’t prepared for what she saw.
“It had been almost a week (from the time of the shooting), but he was swollen from all of the IV fluids,” Deni said. “They showed us the wounds. I was not ready for that.”
Daniel has undergone a serious of surgeries to repair the internal damage he suffered when he was shot. He also became sick because of infection.
“They used something called a wound vac, that sucked all of the infection out, so the entrance and exit wounds healed more quickly,” Deni said. “He had been going in for operations every three or four days to clean out the wounds.”
Early on, Daniel was heavily medicated.
“There are some days … he doesn’t really know,” Deni said. “It was like one long day to him.”
Through it all, Daniel’s spirits have been good, Deni said.
“Actually, he has had only one bad day,” she said. “The reality was just hitting him, about what happened. But he’s never asked why. He’s been doing really good. He definitely misses being in Iraq with his buddies.”
Deni said all she has to do is look around at other patients at Walter Reed and count her blessings.
“When you look at the guys here, there are amputees everywhere,” she said. “And most of them have a smile on their face. It’s like, I don’t have bad days. These guys have been through more than I would ever want to.”
Deni and Daniel are hoping to return to Texas for Thanksgiving and Christmas, where they will be reunited with Sineca and spend time with family. George and Peggy Back, who just recently retired, will spend the winter in Texas. But for now, while her parents take care of 17-month-old Sineca, Deni is there with Daniel to support him during his recovery.
“It’s hard to be away (from Sineca), but this is where I belong. She’s in good hands,” said Deni, who accompanies Daniel on his hospital visits. “We’re so busy. During the week, we have appointments to go to. Right now, we’re just doing therapy. He has to go every month, for a checkup. He still has a few more surgeries. Three that we know of. One is reconstructive surgery to repair his urethra, and that won’t be done until January or February. They won’t release him until after his next surgery.”
Daniel still uses a wheelchair, but he is able to walk short distances. While he faces more surgeries, the prognosis is good.
“They said within a year he should be back to 100 percent,” Deni said. “All of the injuries are reversible. They are very confident.”
As far as his future, Daniel has no plans to leave the Army.
“He wants to stay in the military,” Deni said. “He does want to change his job … he’s been to Iraq four times. He wants to do something that will keep him in (the military), but not deployable. He’s definitely done his time.”