Mettle tested: Amputee serves as squad leader at WTU
October 6, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- A Fort Jackson Soldier is well on his way in becoming the role model for resilience Aca,!" while making a strong case as a standard bearer for courage, compassion and commitment, as well.
And heAca,!a,,cs doing all of this on one real leg.
Sgt. Robert Barthel, a squad leader with the Warrior Transition Unit, had part of his leg amputated two years ago after doctors decided there was no way to save the foot that had been nearly blown off in an IED blast near Nassar Wa Sallam, Iraq.
A fellow Soldier was killed and four others were injured in the July 8, 2008, attack, when their Stryker drove over an IED.
In the time since then, Barthel has not only undergone a successful rehab, but has returned to active duty with a full head of steam, serving as an inspiration for other wounded Soldiers as a squad leader at the Warrior Transition Unit on post.
Aca,!A"They have been making tremendous progress for severely injured Soldiers,Aca,!A? Barthel said. Aca,!A"I am thankful for living in this era. I have met veterans from other wars and they did not have the medical technology we have today available to them.Aca,!A?
Barthel vividly recalled the attack and the events that followed.
He said he and his squad were riding in their vehicle and drove right over an IED that had been buried in the sand. The IED detonated under the belly of the truck.
Aca,!A"It had been a long night and I was taking it easy in the back of the truck,Aca,!A? Barthel said. Aca,!A"The next thing I knew I was in a hospital bed in Germany.Aca,!A?
Shrapnel from the IED had ripped off the back of BarthelAca,!a,,cs right foot. Doctors were unsuccessful in re-establishing circulation.
A doctor then told Barthel that his right foot would need to be amputated below the ankle. But, in order to fit Barthel with a prosthetic, doctors later would amputate midway up his shin.
Aca,!A"I told the doctor and nurses they were crazy, but when I looked down and saw it, I told them they needed to cut it off,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Once I came to terms with it I realized losing a limb isnAca,!a,,ct really as bad as I thought it would be.Aca,!A?
Following the surgeries, Barthel was flown to Naval Medical Center in San Diego for rehabilitation and fitted with a prosthetic leg. His request to be treated in San Diego instead of Walter Reed Medical Center was granted so he could rejoin his wife and five children who were living in Hawaii.
Barthel got his prosthetic leg in August and learned to walk.
By November, he was running. A few months later, he went snowboarding and even participated in the Bay Bridge Run, a 10K race in San Diego.
Aca,!A"I had only been snowboarding once before. But the most rewarding part of the trip was getting my wife out in the snow because she is from Hawaii,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I put that up there as one of the greatest achievements of my life.Aca,!A?
His wife, Elena Barthel, who was pregnant when he deployed, gave birth to twins about a week before he was wounded.
Aca,!A"When I got the phone call and found out, I was in complete shock,Aca,!A? Elena Barthel said. Aca,!A"And when I saw him for the first time in the hospital we just cried in each otherAca,!a,,cs arms. But he is an amazing man and is using his experience to help other Soldiers. He is my hero.Aca,!A?
The sergeant was accepted back into active duty in 2009 and re-classed at Fort Jackson, where he was assigned as the S1 noncommissioned officer for the Drill Sergeant School. Barthel was then assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit as a squad leader.
Aca,!A"Since I have been injured, the Warrior Transition Unit program is something I am very passionate about. I was thrilled to get this job,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We take our wounded Soldiers and manage them through the rehab process. We also help assist them back into the Army or back into the civilian population as a productive member of society.Aca,!A?
Barthel is in charge of 10 to 12 WTU Soldiers and spends his time taking care of their needs.
Aca,!A"He doesnAca,!a,,ct use his prosthetic as an excuse. He is out there doing PT every day and is always out front leading as an example,Aca,!A? said 1st Sgt. Timothy Miller, WTU first sergeant. Aca,!A"He deals with other Soldiers with a tremendous amount of compassion. Sgt. Barthel is a team player who is willing to do anything to get the mission accomplished.Aca,!A?
Shortly before being injured Barthel and his squad were awarded Bronze Stars for their actions in destroying a counter attack. Barthel and his fellow Soldiers were in an observation post just outside Sadr City when an IED detonated in front of them. Unharmed, the Soldiers returned fire on a fleeing man suspected of detonating the bomb.
Then several insurgents came running out of Sadr City toward their position. The squad thwarted the attack, killing three and capturing one.
Today, Barthel can often be seen running to work from his home in family housing.
Aca,!A"I am in pain most of the day. It is one of those things I just got used to,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Part of my coping process is that I am able to help other Soldiers overcome their injuries.Aca,!A?
Barthel said he hopes he can serve as an example for Soldiers who are dealing with similar circumstances.
Aca,!A"I feel like I can help the Army as a motivator,Aca,!A? he said.