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Wounded Fort Drum soldiers attend presidential inauguration, military ball

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A contingent of wounded Fort Drum soldiers joined the hundreds of thousands of spectators who descended on Washington for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration Monday.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling,” said Spc. Jacob E. Owens, who was one of a handful of 10th Mountain Division soldiers recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., who were invited to the event.

Spc. Owens has been hospitalized since his left leg and right eye were wounded Nov. 23, 2011, in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan. In the attack, Spc. Owens, previously assigned to the 630th Route Clearance Company, 7th Engineering Battalion of the 10th Sustainment Brigade, also suffered a blood clot in his lungs and a traumatic brain injury.

Capt. Jake E. Murphy, an infantry officer from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, described the president’s remarks as “uplifting and positive.”

“It made me feel we’re stepping in the right direction,” he said.

Capt. Murphy required amputation of both of his legs after being wounded in an IED attack in July 2011 in Kandahar Province. He is waiting to receive his medical ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs to be discharged from the Army.

Sitting in front of the soldiers during the ceremony were members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the group of black fighter pilots who shattered racial stigmas about the abilities of black service members during World War II.

Capt. Murphy said it was “very impressive” to meet the pilots.

“With different generations having the same goal, same jobs ... there was a lot of pride,” he said.

Spc. Owens said hearing performers such as James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce was “icing on the cake.”

Other recovering soldiers from the division listed as invited to the inauguration were Staff Sgt. Timothy Payne, Pfc. Rex Tharp and Spc. Johnathon Mullen, all of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

In addition to being able to see the inauguration, some of the soldiers were invited to attend the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball on Monday night at the Washington Convention Center. The ball, one of only two official inaugural balls during the weekend’s festivities, is held primarily for military members and their families.

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