Drill sergeant returns to duty following amputation
February 11, 2010
- Drill sergeant injured in training accident last year returns to duty
- Staff Sgt. Luis Elias uses prosthetic devices and a robotic bionic arm to continue his military career
- 'I don't like limitations,' said Elias
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- A random accident cost Staff Sgt. Luis Elias his right hand, but it didn't crush his resolve to lead a life without limitations.
Elias, a drill sergeant with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 192nd Infantry Brigade, is back on the job nearly seven months after a grenade simulator exploded in his hand during a field training exercise.
Barely a month into his drill sergeant tour, Elias was out in the field June 30, 2009, with basic trainees going through their final field exercise when the accident happened.
"The students were low-crawling around the FTX area doing missions like they would if they were on a forward operating base. (The drill sergeants) were simulating incoming fire by throwing grenade simulators. I remember I grabbed the simulator, pulled the string, went to throw it and it blew up in my hand," Elias said. "I was instantly shell-shocked. Everything was moving around in slow motion for me."
In the next few minutes, several E Company drill sergeants swarmed around Elias to provide first aid, control the bleeding and alert a medical team.
Elias was evacuated to Columbus Regional Hospital for treatment before being transferred to Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., to have his hand amputated. In the following days, Elias transferred to a rehabilitation unit at the Uptown VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., to heal and learn to use his prosthetic devices.
Elias said his greatest fear at the time wasn't losing his hand; it was that his military career might be over. "Everybody has a purpose in life and for me it's to serve my country, no matter the sacrifice," he said. "I didn't want to have to take this uniform off."
Nearly six months later, a successful recovery put Elias back with his battle buddies at E Company.
"I don't like limitations, I kind of hate that word," Elias said. "I have no limitations on my profile. I can run, I can do pushups, I can do sit-ups, I can ruck march. I can do everything I was able to do before. What happened to me made me stronger than I was before."
Elias has two prosthetic arms to go with four manually powered attachments and a robotic bionic arm, the newest technology on the market for amputees.
But his favorite of all the devices isn't the $60,000 bionic equipment that comes with sensors and fingers, rather it's the simple, silver hook he nicknamed his 'working hand.'
Fishing, typing and tying his boots, are a few things Elias said he could do with his hook.
Staff Sgt. Imara Bates said little has changed now that Elias is back.
"He's an amped-up guy, just like he was before," said Bates, who helped evacuate Elias the day of his injury. "Every significant life event makes you change, makes you see things a little differently. But he's still the same guy he was then."
Staff Sgt. Marcos Chavez was another first responder the day of Elias' injury. He applied the tourniquet that Elias said he believes saved his life.
Elias credits his command team and the efforts of his fellow drill sergeants for their actions that day, but said the driving force behind his recovery has been his wife, Claudia, 4-year-old son, Noah, and his faith in God. "They uplifted my spirit and morale everyday," he said.
As for how his son has reacted to daddy's new look, Elias said, "My son thinks I'm a transformer. But even with a robotic hand, I still don't get to be Optimus Prime. I'm Bumblebee, he's Optimus Prime."