Purple Heart recipient now with WVU lacrosse team
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 23:02
Frank Etro has had a long path to get to where he is today. The 24-year-old West Virginia University club lacrosse player is a veteran of three deployments in Iraq and recipient of the Purple Heart.
With his military days behind him for now, Etro's life has become a little easier. Even though his road back to playing lacrosse has become longer than expected due to injury, overcoming adversity is something Etro has become quite good at.
As an 18-year old, the current junior at WVU knew where he was going after graduation from West Springfield High School in Springfield, Va., and it didn't involve playing lacrosse as he did for the West Springfield Spartans.
Just like the generations of family before him, he was going in to the United States military.
"It's a tradition in my family," Etro said. "We're all military men."
However, not every Etro followed in the same footsteps. Some of his relatives were members of the United States Army and Navy.
He is the only one to join the United States Marine Corps.
"There's a big-time rivalry between us," Etro said. "I always come out on top, though."
Etro entered the service in 2003 following his high school graduation. By the summer of 2005, he was stationed in Fallujah, Iraq with the Third Battalion, Second Marine Regiment.
Fallujah was one of the areas with the heaviest amounts of insurgency and resistance to U.S. presence in Iraq. Some of the most violent battles of the ongoing war has taken place there.
"The locals were very hostile," Etro said. "They were shooting at us, blowing us up, using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades)."
It was during his first deployment that an IED blew up underneath a truck he and four other soldiers were riding in, injuring everyone.
"I was in a truck, driving, and next thing I know I wake up and I have a cut-up hand," Etro said. Etro took shrapnel to his hand, but he claims it was nothing serious and he was stitched up and out again the next day. Some of his comrades were hurt worse, but everyone was able to make a recovery.
During his second deployment, Etro was stationed in Al Qa'im, Iraq, near the Syrian border. Prior to Etro's arrival, parts of the area had been recently recaptured by Iraqi and Syrian insurgents from neighboring towns. His regiment played a critical role in the Anbar Awakening, which ousted much of the resistance in the region.
In his third deployment, Etro was stationed in Saudi Arabia. It was there that he and his friend, now roommate, Robert Meador, decided that when they returned home, they would earn their college degree. They returned to the United States in August 2009.
They picked West Virginia University because Meador had already owned property near Morgantown.
Upon arrival at WVU, Etro was reintroduced to lacrosse by a former next door neighbor and current teammate, Billy Pastor. Pastor and Etro's father's played lacrosse together at the Naval Academy.
It was then when Pastor suggested Etro carry on another family tradition and join the team.
At first Etro showed some rust, not having played organized lacrosse in six years, but coaches saw the effort was there.
"I picked it up quickly," Etro said. "I had to relearn the rules, but one semester later I was back into the groove."
WVU head coach Flip Green and assistant coach Andrew Wassman had Etro projected to take face-offs and start this year, but an injury makes that impossible for at least a few weeks.
"We were having practice and during an agility drill he felt a pop," Green said. "Then he hopped like a pogo stick across the floor, F-bombin' it the whole way."
Etro had torn several muscles in the side of his leg and was bleeding internally, which eventually caused acute compartment syndrome, where an area of the body is under extreme pressure. In this case, Etro's muscles were bleeding into a small compartment in his leg, raising the tension.
Pastor took Etro to Ruby Memorial Hospital, but they did not recognize a serious problem and sent him away. When Etro returned the next day, it was determined he needed emergency surgery. Etro underwent a fasciotomy, a surgical procedure designed to relieve tension in his lower leg.
Because of the injury, Etro will likely miss all of the 2010 season, which starts Feb. 26 against Ole Miss and ends in late April.
"I'm going to start going to practices next week," Etro said. "I'm hoping to be up playing again by next (summer) semester. The doctor's are saying no, but that's what I'm saying. If that's not an option than definitely by fall."
His coaches wouldn't be surprised by his answer.
"He's the most optimistic kid in the world," Green said. "No ‘Why me?' or ‘Poor me' out of him."
"Franks a great kid," Wassman said. "He's as dedicated as we want any lacrosse player on this team to be."