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A Soldier's Courage

Late in April 2005, Sgt. 1st Class Grayson “Norris” Galatas, 45, was lying in a bed in the emergency room of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, wondering how his wife, Janis, would be able to continue to feed and care for their three American Quarter Horses – “Cinnamon,” “Ruffian” and “Mandy” – if he died from his injuries.

On April 19, 2005, the Meridian, Mississippi, soldier had been driving a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck when he crossed a buried improvised explosive device, which detonated and seriously injured Norris and one other soldier. With horrific internal injuries – every organ was damaged except Norris’ heart – he was airlifted to the combat hospital in Baghdad.

“His buddies thought he was a goner,” Janis says, “because he basically bled out on the battlefield.”

At the hospital in Baghdad, Norris was given 55 units of blood.

“Before they put Norris in a drug-induced coma, he talked to Capt. Corbin (his nurse) about his beloved ‘kids,’ ” says Janis, an AQHA life member. “As critical as he was, he was still talking about the horses – our kids: 20-year-old Catch Suzie (Ruffian), 19-year-old Skips Nightingale (Mandy) and her 7-year-old daughter, Mandysmrtradition (Cinnamon).

“Our mares are pets,” Janis says. “I never dreamed in 1988 when I bought Ruffian and then in 1989 when we bought Mandy, that gray and buckskin would be the ‘hot colors’ for the next 20 years.”

Janis says she and Norris have ridden their horses on trails, downtown, roadsides and city streets. And, just like bragging on human kids, Janis and Norris can’t stop talking about their equine kids.

“Our trainer and farrier even rode Cinnamon across a levee to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July!” Janis says. “He said she is the smartest horse he has ever ridden.”

Once Norris was stabilized at the hospital in Baghdad, he was flown to Germany for more medical attention, then on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for still more surgery.

“He lost 50 pounds in 30 days, had 16 surgeries and was finally able to eat on June 15, 2005,” says Janis, who spent three months at Norris’ bedside. “He had to be opened up from his crotch to his sternum to be flushed out and cleaned and drained. (His wound) stayed open for three months with a sponge on his belly and a wound vacuum.”

Janis put a picture of Norris with their mares near his hospital bed.

“He said many times that little picture kept him from giving up,” she says. “He knew he had all of us at home depending on him. That was a lot to put on a wounded soldier, but he made it fine.”


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