Amputee Soldier stays on to serve
October 17, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- When a Soldier loses a limb, his or her Army career usually goes with it.
First Lt. Rafael Chicolugo, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery platoon leader/executive officer, fought to stay on active duty and to be in the field.
"The Army is pretty much everything I know. I grew up in this environment and I love what I do. I love being an artilleryman. I'm just not ready to let it go," said Chicolugo.
He lost his leg below the knee in Kandahar province, Afghanistan Sept. 16, 2011 when his company was doing a dismounted combat patrol.
"I was turning to follow behind my company commander and then I just stepped on a push pad IED," said Chicolugo.
Chicolugo doesn't sit back in an office somewhere, instead he spends 112 out of 365 days in the field ensuring students in the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course are able to train.
Soldiers in his unit said he doesn't use his prosthesis as a crutch and even though he has challenges, he faces them and adapts.
"He's right out there with the guys. It doesn't stop him from doing anything. He'll get out there and move rounds and do whatever we have to do," said Sgt. 1st Class John Young, A/1-30th FA.
After he left the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, he spent a year and a half in rehabilation at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI) at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"The first six months after I got to San Antonio were extremely hard, mentally and physically. A couple days after I got to BAMC my battalion commander called me from theater and to tell me one of my F-Os was killed in the exact same village that I got hurt in. As a fire support officer I only had a team of five Soldiers. We were very close. It was all our first deployment together."
He wears a memorial bracelet to remember him, and he said that loss and the loss of any Soldier is why he decided to continue to serve.
"I use that as inspiration for me to come back to work and to be the best leader, best officer, be the best man that I can be because I get to be here with my family, my friends and they don't."
Chicolugo has a degree in international relations and is going to have his master's degree before the beginning of the year. He said that is his "fall back" plan, but he decided to serve under the Continuation of Active Duty program. He was evaluated by a medical examination board, physical evaluation board and had to submit recommendations from his commanders and a letter explaining why he wanted to stay in the Army.
"A lot of other guys who were hurt who had the same or similar injuries were coming back and saying 'Hey I'm still in, I'm with 82nd Airborne; I went back to work; I deployed as an amputee. I was like 'wow,' all of this just going through physical therapy and just figuring out how to maneuver your new leg or your new arm in another environment and I figured if they can do it, then so can I. They gave me a lot of motivation to really just push on."
Chicolugo said he has accepted his "new normal" prosthetic leg. He added the CFI gave him the tools to know how to adjust it when he needs it. He has several prostheses built for different purposes such as running, and maneuvering over different elevations.
"He has really fought through to overcome that aspect of his life. I think the main thing that impresses me the most about him is if the same thing were to happen to me, I would hope I would want to come back and do the same job and face the same challenges, but inwardly I don't know if I'm strong enough, so seeing that he is able to do that he is a great example," said Capt. Grady Stebbins, A/1-30th FA commander. "He continues to drive on and meet every standard we put in front of him."
Stebbins said he is inspiring to others, and even helped one Soldier open up after returning from deployment.
"I had another Soldier who had some PTSD issues a while back and Rafael was the first person that he really turned to," said Stebbins.
Despite losing his leg, Chicolugo wants to go back downrange.
"I talked to one of my other buddies who just came back from Afghanistan, and he's a below the knee amputee just like myself; he said he had no issues. I think that's a testament to the program that we have down at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. Just awesome medical professionals who help you out."
"He is positive guy, but when you go through something like that and you come out on the other end you have to be positive. He's got a lot of big plans for the future. Without any worries I would absolutely deploy with him," said Young.