Sergeant Loses Leg in Iraq, Refuses to Accept Defeat
November 7, 2008
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2008 - A bomb disguised as a cigarette stand on the side of an Iraqi highway ended up claiming Army Sgt. Robert M. Price III's right leg below the knee Jan. 14, 2007, but it didn't take away his will to succeed.
Price was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas, when he deployed to Iraq for the second time in October 2006 as part of Task Force Iron Claw, a team of engineers with the sole mission of keeping Iraq's streets clear of roadside bombs.
"It's kind of stressful, but it keeps you on your toes at all times," Price said of his mission in Iraq. "When you're sitting there, ... you're just trying to make sure that everybody else is going through and getting through safe."
He and his team were doing just that while on a mission near Baghdad's Sadr City. They'd started at 6 p.m. and hadn't seen anything to cause concern until 11:45, when they spotted a cigarette stand beside the road.
"Usually they always pull all that stuff off the side of the road," he said. "So that was like one of the automatic little signs right there."
The team was riding in a vehicle called a Buffalo, designed for use in this type of bomb-clearing mission and equipped with a claw on a 40-foot arm that can dig and move objects.
Price, the vehicle commander, had just maneuvered the vehicle in place and started to investigate the makeshift bomb with the claw when it detonated. The bomb had a passive infrared sensor on it, which detects heat, he said. The sensor had picked up the vehicle's engine heat signature, which triggered the explosion and left nine bowling-ball-sized holes in the vehicle.
"Thank God we all walked away from it," he said, and then he chuckled. "Well, somewhat walked away from it."
In fact, his driver suffered shrapnel wounds in his right buttock and another team member sitting behind Price caught some shrapnel in his right foot. The team's medic, who was sitting farther back in the vehicle, suffered a burn across her hand.
Price wasn't quite so lucky. The blast landed him in a combat support hospital, where doctors amputated his right foot below the ankle and stabilized him for evacuation to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
He was there for a couple of days before being transported to Walter Reed Army Hospital here, where there were more surgeries and a revision to the initial amputation when he developed an infection in his leg.
When he was moved to Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for physical therapy, he'd lost his leg up to about two inches below his knee.
A month later, he received a Purple Heart for his sacrifice in Iraq.
"I originally received my initial Purple Heart in theater from my brigade commander," Price said. "But I didn't have the actual orders for it until I go down here to BAMC."
The ceremony was held at Fort Hood, but Price said it was hard to explain how he felt about it because he was on a lot of medication at the time.
"Everybody's really bad off if you're receiving a Purple Heart," he said. "It's not really an award that you want to say 'Congratulations!' on, but you're just sitting there looking at some of these soldiers. Some of them, ... you're like, 'Man. I only lost below my knee and here's a guy that's missing one arm and two legs, or all of his limbs.'
"You sit there and you're like, 'Somebody must've been really looking over my shoulder,'" he said.
As much as it means to him and as much attention as his Purple Heart license plate garners, Price said, it wasn't the medal that motivated him to stay on active duty. It was his refusal to accept defeat.
Price, now the squad leader of the Warrior Transition Unit's Charlie Company at Fort Sam Houston, has cleared many obstacles. He's learned to walk again, and he can run, jump and swim. He also passed a mock Army physical fitness test.
"I passed it, but could only do the bare minimum," he said. "Nevertheless, I made it."
He's also adapting to everyday life, including handling something as ordinary as litter on the street, which wouldn't cause much of a reaction in most people.
"There'll be certain things that ... trigger a response," he said. "I'd see something on the side of the road, and I'd literally detour and try to get away from it."
That's better now that he's off all medications, he said, adding that his wife, Teresa, took the whole situation in stride, as did their three children, Taylor Pineda, 17, Giavanna Price, 7, and Kloe Price, 4.
"My two daughters were pretty much too young to even realize what really happened," Price said. "The last they actually remember was seeing their father with two legs, and now he's missing a leg."
What they're also seeing is that persistence pays off. Price has achieved every goal he's set for himself since being injured, with the exception of two. He hasn't put his new hobby of competitive archery into practice in the Olympics yet, but he fully intends to do so in 2012. And it'll take a few years beyond that before he can realistically achieve his biggest goal. Price has set his sights on becoming the first amputee to achieve the title of command sergeant major of the Army.
He knows what he needs to do to best position himself for that opportunity, too. "Basically just getting all my ... noncommissioned officers academies, and just not getting in trouble," he said with a laugh that showed he knows it'll take a lot more than that.
Until then, he'll keep busy at work helping the wounded warriors in his company find their way back to active duty or civilian life. He'll also offer his wife encouragement as she earns her degree in business management, and he'll impart his hard-earned military wisdom to his son, who wants to follow in his father's footsteps.