Though Wounded in Combat, First Strike Soldier Continues to Strive
September 11, 2009
- Double Amputee Continues To Serve As Infantry Officer
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - May 11, 2008, is a day many remember throughout the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). That day in particular was Mother's Day, and a day that would seemingly change the life of one Soldier in particular.
While patrolling through the streets of Hurriyah, a northwest Baghdad neighborhood, Lt. Daniel Luckett's vehicle was hit by an Explosively Formed Penetrator. The window speckled as the device burst through his door, with a very gritty, iron smell to it as it vaporized through the vehicles metal. There was blood.
Over the radio he heard they needed a status of all personnel, seeing if everyone was okay from the blast.
"Negative, negative," Luckett said. "My feet are gone."
Luckett was missing his left foot and part of his right foot.
With his heart pumping and his adrenaline rushing, Luckett knew he needed to remain calm and keep an even keel even under these terrible conditions.
"I made a conscious effort to calm down and regain my composure," said Luckett.
The medic came over to his door, pulled him from the vehicle and laid him on his back with his feet elevated to keep him from going into shock.
Everyone began filtering from their vehicles to assess the situation and secure the area. At that time, Luckett handed over his platoon and knew that would be the last time he would serve as their leader.
He knew what had happened to him, it wasn't an illusion. though it took every bit of focus and self that he had to remain calm in that situation.
They were able to medically evacuate him from a nearby joint security station to a combat support hospital.
Before being lifted into the bird, one officer approached him and said, "Hey man don't worry we're going to catch these guys." He simply responded, "And when you do tell them I said hi."
That day was the beginning of a new life for Luckett. On May 17, he found himself at Walter Reed Medical Center where he would begin rehabilitation.
From day one, Luckett simply knew he had one goal - to return to duty and continue to serve as an infantry officer.
Luckett, who hails from Atlanta, wanted to serve as a leader in combat. When he decided to join the Army while at school at Auburn University, he knew this was his opportunity to serve next to his countries best men and women.
"I didn't want to be left out of my generation's calling," Luckett said.
After commissioning, Luckett joined Company D, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, where he would eventually deploy and initially serve as the intelligence cell officer-in-charge and fire support officer. While there, he primarily tracked the enemy situation in Kadhamiyah.
However, midway through his deployment he received word that he would be transferring to Company A to serve as a platoon leader, which made him very excited because now he would have the opportunity to lead Soldiers in combat.
It was a long-standing goal of his to lead Soldiers through such a tumultuous time.
"I thought it would be extremely challenging, yet extremely rewarding," said Luckett.
However, just a week into having sole ownership of the platoon he was wounded.
While at Walter Reed, Luckett knew it would be a challenge, but he was ready for it.
There were times when he was frustrated, where he didn't know if he would be able to do something physically, however, that was unacceptable to him.
At first he was in a wheelchair, but he was motivated - motivated to get back to the men he served in combat with. He loved the work ethic every Soldier he served with held.
"There are very few places in today's society where you can genuinely see honor and dedication to duty as you can see here," Luckett said.
On July 3, Luckett received his first leg. At first, he needed two crutches to walk on the leg. Two weeks later, he only needed one crutch. Then, soon after, he simply needed a cane to keep him balanced and upright.
Three weeks later in September, and to his delight, he was walking upright without the support of any device.
"I wanted to walk again," he said, "though it took awhile to build up the resistance to walk on the leg."
His left leg, which was a below the knee amputation, was taken care of, but now they needed to address his right foot, which was missing everything from the ball of the foot forward. He decided to be fitted with a carbon fiber foot.
Over the following months, Luckett continued to rehabilitate until he was cleared and returned to the Strike Brigade in February.
Through sheer work and determination, Luckett met his goal of returning to the 502nd.
"If you work hard enough and truly apply yourself there is very little that is going to limit you," Luckett said.
To this day, very little limits Luckett in his many adventures as a Soldier, though he believes there is much he still needs to prove to himself and to others.
"I'm still proving my capabilities to myself. It's always about proving that you can still do your job," he said. "In order for me to successfully return to duty and be deployable I have to be an asset to the unit and not a hindrance. As such, I have to be able to do everything I ask Private Smith to do. I still have to do those things."
And that's exactly what Luckett is doing today as he serves as the executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt.
Daily, one may see him running down Tennessee Avenue, or all geared up trudging around for hours during training exercises.
To him, he is no different than any other Soldier within his formation.
"I can tell you that I am blessed to have Lt. Luckett in the first strike battalion," said Lt. Col. Johnny Davis, commander, 1st Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt. "He is the embodiment of human determination."
Davis believes that when Soldiers see him they immediately have a certain level of respect for him, though Davis truly understands that Luckett is simply being a Soldier.
"Not only has he endured hardship but he's overcome that challenge and now he's driving on to higher levels of responsibility," said Davis. "His physical disabilities will not get in the way. If he can serve as a Soldier and live the Army values he should be in this unit."
Davis believes Luckett, just like other wounded warriors in his formation, is living proof that one can hit an obstacle, in his case being wounded, get through the healing process, and return to duty.
He not only returns to duty, Davis believes, but he brings very unique skills to the Soldiers of First Strike.
"He has unique skills as an infantry officer, especially infantry officers who will lead Soldiers in combat," said Davis. "We didn't lose his capabilities, and all that experience and maturity."
At the end of the day, that's exactly what Luckett is - a leader with a unique set of capabilities who has the ability to lead Soldiers in the toughest of times.
As long as his body will allow him to do it, Luckett plans to continue serving his nation as an infantry officer.
For now, Luckett simply wants to be seen as an officer who happens to be an amputee, not amputee who happens to be an officer. Luckett never wants to be place upon a pedestal for his successes in returning to duty, he just wants to be a Soldier.