Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for December 6, 2010 - Staff Sgt. Andre Murnane

Staff Sergeant Andre Murnane

Current Unit: Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Current Position: Communications Sergeant
Component: Maryland National Guard
Current Location: Washington, D.C.
Hometown: Salisbury, Md.
Years of Service: 4

When doctors told Staff Sgt. Andre Murnane that he might never walk again after the amputation of his right leg, the Special Forces Soldier was determined to prove them wrong. This past August, less than a year after the amputation, Murnane made history when he became the first National Guardsman to jump from an aircraft with a prosthetic limb.

“I didn’t know the statistics going into the jump. For me, it was just about overcoming the disability and being back with my team again,” he said.

In October 2009, members of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) were clearing a mountaintop area after an ambush when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated nearby. The blast sent shrapnel through the air and several pieces penetrated Murnane’s right foot and ankle, causing severe tissue damage. Although surgeons performed several operations over the course of the next month at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., they were unable to repair the damage.

“I was told that if I was going to walk again it would be at least a year, and that there was a possibility my leg would have to be amputated down the road anyway,” he said. “I had seen how successful other amputees at Walter Reed had been, so I decided to have the procedure.”

For the Soldier, he knew the amputation was not the end of his Army career, just a new chapter in his story of service, one that began with loss. Although Murnane had always considered joining the Army, the death of Maryland National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Mike McMullen in 2006 was the motivation that Murnane needed to enlist. The two had served together as firefighters in Salisbury, Md., prior to McMullen’s deployment to Iraq where he was critically wounded by insurgent forces. Following in McMullen’s bootsteps, Murnane joined the Army and applied to serve in Special Forces.

During his deployment last year, Murnane worked within a 12-man operational detachment to train and advise members of the Afghan National Police.

“We worked with them on close quarters combat, vehicle searches, personnel searches, and really everything that goes into being out in the field, like disabling IED’s or roadside bombs,” he said.

In addition to its training role, the Special Forces detachment also undertook a number of joint missions with the Afghans to help stabilize the region and improve area security. As the team’s communication sergeant, Murnane was responsible for the operation and maintenance of radio systems unique to both Special Forces and the Afghan police.

“During a mission, internal communication is critical for troops on the ground as well as those in command. For the ground troops, you’re not always going to be right next to each other to relay information, and the leaders rely on communication to get the big picture in the battlefield,” he said, also noting the importance of being able to call a medevac in the event of injury.

And on that fateful day a little over a year ago, Murnane was the one who benefitted from the radio call to the medevac. Since then, the Soldier has taken considerable steps toward recovery—he made the historic parachute jump in August and, last month, he finished the Army Ten-Miler race. Currently, Murnane continues to undergo physical therapy at Walter Reed and he looks forward to returning to his Special Forces unit.

“I don’t want to leave the Special Forces community. It’s a really small group of amazing guys you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Definitely not something I want to leave behind,” he said. “Life’s a journey and the journey is the destination, and Special Forces, with all of its unique challenges, has been big part of my journey.”

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