Range therapy: Wounded warrior joins old unit for training
April 9, 2013
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Embrace the suck? Sgt. Justin Lansford convalesces in it.
The former 82nd Airborne Division infantryman took leave recently from the outpatient barracks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Tranquility Hall to join his old company for a weekend on a live-fire range in the rain.
"There's always something worse," said the Georgia native who lost his left leg nearly a year ago in Afghanistan when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb, flipping it over on its back.
Lansford had been the gunner, and the accident not only severed his left leg, but also crushed his right ankle, broke both femurs, damaged his back and spleen, punctured both lungs and fractured his nose.
"When we loaded him on the MEDEVAC, I was hoping to see him again, but I though I might not because of severity of his injuries," said Lansford's former first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Thinh Huynh.
But Lansford survived, pulling through massive blood loss and beating back a fungal infection, a viral infection and a really bad bacterial infection. With aggressive ongoing physical therapy, he is back on his feet.
"It's great to be here with the guys," he said.
In a light drizzle, Lansford hunkered down behind the old familiar M240B machine gun on a western Fort Bragg weapons range and knocked down target after target.
"Lansford used to be a really good gunner when I was his platoon sergeant, and I thought the younger soldiers might learn something from him," said Huynh. "He's always been the guy to cheer people up and motivate them, so it's good for him to be around the guys."
Huynh compared Lansford to a class clown, but one that he could always depend on to know what needed to be done.
"He loves being back here with the guys," said Huynh.
Lansford credits his recovery to a never-quit airborne attitude and great support from his mother, father and brother, the paratroopers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, his physical therapist, and even his hometown of Snellville.
Huynh and the company commander, Capt. Jared Larpenteur, called him often at Walter Reed, even while the company was still deployed.
"They worry about you, and you worry about them," Lansford said. "It's important for everyone to keep in touch."
His advice to others facing adversity?
"Don't let it get you down. It's not the end of the world. It was a trying time for the family, but I can't even fathom how difficult it was for [the families of soldiers who were killed]. It doesn't even come close to that."
Part of Lansford's five to eight hours of daily physical therapy is to train for the Paralympic national rowing team. He thinks he has a good shot at it.
His injuries have given him a new perspective on life, he said. Compared with the physical challenge of learning to walk again, the little things that once bothered him seem insignificant.
"I told him it was supposed to be cold and rainy this weekend when we would be out in the field," said Huynh. "You don't have to come. He told me, 'First Sergeant, if it ain't raining, it ain't training.'"