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Nephew of San Juan islanders injured by IED in Afghanistan

Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Billmyer, center, nephew of Steve and Bobbi Billmyer of Friday Harbor, was injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan Oct. 23.
Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Billmyer, center, nephew of Steve and Bobbi Billmyer of Friday Harbor, was injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan Oct. 23. 'They had to amputate both of his legs above the knee,' Mrs. Billmyer wrote in an e-mail Oct. 24. 'He will go to Germany, then (Bethesda) ... Please keep Chris and his family in your prayers.'
— image credit: Courtesy the Billmyer family

-- This version corrects references to the hospital name and address

Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Billmyer, nephew of Steve and Bobbi Billmyer of Friday Harbor, was injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan Oct. 23.

"They had to amputate both of his legs above the knee," Mrs. Billmyer wrote in an e-mail Oct. 24. "He will go to Germany, then (Bethesda) ... Please keep Chris and his family in your prayers."

Billmyer is assigned to U.S. Marine Corps 3/5 L Company. He is at least the fifth service member with local ties injured since the U.S. sent military forces to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003; two others were killed in action.

It's not known exactly how many islanders or people with island ties are serving in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Minnie Knych, a local advocate for military personnel serving overseas, said 10 people are on the list for local care packages.

"It's a horrible thing for the family to have to go through," said Knych, whose nephew, Army Sgt. Buzz Robertson, was injured in 2005 when his up-armored Humvee hit a mine in Iraq. "What helps is sending cards and letters. When Buzz was at Walter Reed, he and his wife would open his mail together daily. When you're laying there in a hospital bed, it gives you something to do and it helps to know you're not alone."

To send a card or letter to Lance Cpl. Billmyer, write:

LCPL Christopher Billmyer
National Naval Medical Center
ICU 8901
Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20889

Knych said Billmyer will likely be at Bethesda for a while, followed by physical therapy at a military hospital near where he was inducted.

Other local casualties and injuries since 2003:

— Sgt. Michael Bitz, the son and grandson of San Juan islanders, was killed March 23, 2003 when he and other Marines were attacked by Iraqi soldiers that had pretended to surrender.

— In December 2003, Army Warrant Officer Carrie McLeish of Friday Harbor was injured in a vehicle collision in Tikrit.

— Marine Pvt. 1st Class Cody Calavan, grandson of Shaw islanders, was killed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, May 29, 2004.

— On Aug. 25, 2005, Army Sgt. Richard (Buzz) Robertson and his Special Operations unit was in an up-armored Humvee when it hit a mine. Several of the men died. Robertson was believed to be on his fourth mission in Iraq. He is now a security consultant at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a counselor for military personnel with spinal cord injuries.

— On May 1, 2009, Army Sgt. Tom Bauschke of Friday Harbor was struck by shrapnel when his unit came under surprise attack from Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. He received the Bronze Star.

— In September 2010, Army Specialist Ryan Buckley, 33, was injured in Afghanistan when a truck drove into him while he was unloading a Black Hawk helicopter; the impact broke his femurs and knee caps.

Local volunteers accept donations for care packages on the first Saturday of the month, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Friday Harbor MarketPlace. Care packages are prepared for mailing on the following Wednesday.

To donate or help, or to add someone to the care package list, call Knych, 378-4662 or e-mail knych@rockisland.com.

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