By Charmain BrackettApril 9, 2009
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- (April 8, 2009) The January day seemed like any other in Hutal, a village about 80-kilometers west of Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"We were patrolling in a local market," said 1st Lt. Josh Darnell, a native of Watkinsville, Ga., and a 2004 graduate of the University of Georgia, who is currently a patient at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center's Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit. "A suicide bomber waited."
When the Soldiers got closer to the robed bomber, he detonated about 40 to 50 pounds of a homemade explosive combined with items which could have included ball-bearings and nails.
The device killed two Soldiers and injured another 12; about 20 Afghan natives were killed or injured in the blast, which tore through Darnell's right arm taking his elbow with it. Shrapnel pierced his hips and legs.
Only hours after the explosion, he was headed to Germany, where he spent four days then it was back to the United States.
"Initially, I was supposed to go to Walter Reed, but my surgeon heard I had Family in North Georgia," he said.
With Family only about 90 minutes away, Darnell was glad to be located near them; however, he was a little apprehensive when he heard he'd also be receiving treatment at the VA.
His father and grandfather are both veterans.
He said he'd heard horror stories about VA hospitals from World War II veterans, but a former VA Active Duty Rehab Unit patient Master Sgt. Thomas Morrissey calmed any fears Darnell might have had.
"The first time he walked in the room, I thought he was part of the hospital staff," Darnell said.
Morrissey didn't look like a man who survived being shot by an AK-47 eight times and might have lost limbs except for the care he received at Eisenhower and the VA, he said.
"He looked perfectly healthy," he said.
Morrissey's recovery was inspiring to Darnell, who almost lost his right arm.
Since the blast did not sever the arm, doctors were able to save it even though the damage is severe. Eventually, they may fuse the two bones together which would leave his arm in a permanently fixed position. For now, his arm is in a brace as therapists work twice a day with him to give him greater use of his hands and fingers.
Six weeks ago, Darnell was unable to wiggle his fingers.
"I can make a fist, and I can pick up light objects," he said.
So far, Darnell has had more than a dozen surgical procedures and expects at least two more.
As for his days once he is released, Darnell said he's unsure. He suspects the injury could mean his Army days will come to an end.
Darnell holds a journalism degree and worked as a magazine assistant editor and writer prior to joining the Army. He said he may return to writing one day.