Operation Proper Exit: A return to the war zone

Wounded American combat veterans return to Iraq to face their traumatic memories of the war, hoping this helps them move forward in their lives.

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

Pelley: You felt like you let them down.

Salau: Absolutely.

Pelley: By leaving.

Salau: Absolutely

Pelley: When you first heard about Operation Proper Exit, what did you think?

Salau: I had to come back. You know what? This-- this place doesn't take from you what you don't give it.

[Steven Conford: Coming back here means a lot to me.]

Of the eight, returning may have been toughest for Steven Cornford. To look at him you don't see scarring, there are no amputations. He left Iraq and was awarded the Silver Star for Valor. But they don't give away Silver Stars for nothing and when we sat down with Cornford we learned what post traumatic stress disorder is all about.

Steven Cornford: Life after Operation Proper Exit
Cpl. Steven Cornford returns home, less fearful that the trauma he experienced in Iraq will destroy his family life.

Pelley: When you were coming over here, for Operation Proper Exit, did you wonder whether you were doing the right thing?

Cornford: Sometimes. My wife brought up a good point when I told her I wanted to do it. It's, like, 'What if it makes it worse? What if it brings it all back?' Because for a while-- I-- I would sleepwalk, and scream in my sleep, and stuff, and I-- I haven't been doin' that a lot lately, but when I found out I was comin' back, for about a week before, I-- I started doin' it again, and it really scared her.

His nightmares are rooted in Easter Sunday 2007. Steven Cornford's platoon assaulted an enemy machine gun nest. He was hit in the left shoulder. His lieutenant, Phillip Neel, sprinted forward to help, but was cut down. Through enemy fire, Cornford reached the lieutenant and he tried to stop the bleeding from the artery in the lieutenant's leg.

Cornford: I didn't have much pressure with my left arm, so once I found the spot on him that had the worst injury, where it was bleeding the most, I-- I-- tried to stop it by laying on it with a pressure dressing on it.

Pelley: And this whole time, you're returning fire?

Cornford: Yes, sir.

Cornford threw two hand grenades into the machine gun nest. Then he carried Lieutenant Neel a mile to a medevac helicopter that took them both to a field hospital. The lieutenant didn't make it and Cornford cannot forgive himself.

Cornford: And they pronounced my lieutenant dead. I-- I just-- the last thing I remember before they put me out for surgery and blood transfusions, and stuff like that was they all salute, when they pronounce somebody dead. And I-- I was fightin' the nurses and the doctors with the one good arm I did have to get up and salute. And they wouldn't let me get up. And finally, I just blacked out, and woke up the next morning in a lotta pain.

Pelley: How old were you?

Cornford: Eighteen years old.

Pelley: Why did you come back here?

Cornford: To try and let it go. It's somethin' that haunts me every day.