By Kristen Schabert, Fort Knox Medical ActivityNovember 12, 2013
FORT KNOX, Ky. (Nov. 12, 2013) -- In honor of Warrior Care Month in November, the Fort Knox Warrior Transition Battalion invited guest speaker, former Army Sgt. Bryan Anderson, a triple-amputee, to conduct resiliency training Friday, at Waybur Theater here.
Anderson enlisted in the Army in April 2001, and had a 'ship out' date of Sept. 11, 2001. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and was stationed in the Baghdad area. He attained the rank of sergeant in the Military Police, conducted police training courses in Iraq and gained additional law enforcement experience at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Ky., as a prison guard.
In October 2005, he was injured by an improvised explosive device, known as an IED, that resulted in the loss of both legs and his left hand. As a result of his injuries, he was awarded a Purple Heart. Bryan received rehabilitation for a period of 13 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then in Washington, D.C. He is one of the few triple amputees to have survived his injuries in Iraq.
While speaking to the audience at Fort Knox, Anderson pointed out that there is nothing to be afraid of when meeting an amputee.
"Don't be afraid of me, because I'm not afraid of you," he said. "My family doesn't even look at me like I'm in a wheelchair anymore. In fact, my twin brother still asks me for socks."
Anderson told those in attendance, which included most of the Warrior Transition Battalion as well as Soldiers and civilians from other units on post, how he has learned to live life to the fullest despite his life-changing injuries. He combined humorous stories with more serious conversation, such as describing what it was like to go from his first deployment when an IED was more like a pop can on the side of the road, to his second deployment when an IED almost took his life.
When his vehicle was hit, he said, the explosion cut off his legs and hand instantly, and spun him backwards in his seat. He credits his friends who were with him that day for saving his life until the medical evacuation helicopter could arrive to transport him to the nearest hospital.
Once he was in the helicopter, he remembers asking for oxygen and knowing he had a collapsed lung, and then he passed out. He said what felt like three seconds later, he awoke to the sight of his mother looking at him. She told him they were in Walter Reed Army Medical Center and it had been a full seven days since his accident.
"My entire family was there," he said, "and it showed me that no matter what, the people I cared about would be there for me."
He also realized he had two options.
"I could either roll over and die or just exist, or I could adapt and overcome," he said.
He decided he was not going to "sit and feel sorry for myself" and pushed through four months of rehabilitation before succumbing to a period of depression. To get through that, he took some time for a fun trip to Las Vegas with his mom and best friend, and was able to refocus on healing.
He soon tried skateboarding and snowboarding, and realized he could do all of these things without limbs and enjoy himself immensely.
"This is all about moving on, continuing forward, resiliency," he said. "If you're not falling, you're not trying."
In the years since his injuries, he has learned to skateboard, snowboard, wake board, white water raft and rock climb. He has become the National Spokesman for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Corp., and travels the country making personal appearances while delivering his message of perseverance and determination in major rehab facilities. In addition, he is a spokesman for USA Cares, a non-profit organization based in Radcliff, Ky., that is focused on assisting post-9/11 veterans in times of need.
"I don't see this as a tragedy anymore, this is just another life experience," he said. "I'm very happy with who I am and the life I lead."
Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, attended the presentation and spoke to Anderson at the conclusion of the event.
"You are an amazing person, an amazing man, and our country owes you a debt of gratitude," he said. "You are an inspiration."