When Justin “JP” Lane’s vehicle was hit by an IED while on a route clearance mission in Afghanistan in 2011, it wasn’t the first time.
But this time, the 9-line call for medevac support was for him, and the speedy arrival of a Black Hawk helicopter on the scene was lifesaving.
“I’m living, walking proof that your job is more important than sometimes you may even think,” the decorated veteran and double amputee said to Army aviation professionals at Fort Rucker July 20.
“When someone’s in that situation — they’re blown up, they’re losing blood and their situation is quite traumatic — the best part about it is the fact that you guys are on your toes, in the (aircraft) getting there to that hot spot, and getting us back safe,” he said.
“What you all do is extremely important for speed and efficiency and for keeping people alive, and I am very grateful,” he said.
Lane said his Army journey began back in 8th grade, when he watched on television in his language arts classroom at school as the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. He wanted to make sure an attack like that never happened again.
When he was old enough to join, he asked a recruiter to sign him up for the most dangerous job they could give him. In 2008 he enlisted to become a combat engineer.
He deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, and on two occasions his vehicle was hit by an IED. The vehicle was badly damaged but he and his team were safe.
That’s when complacency can set in, and people can think they’re invincible, he said.
July 2, 2011, Lane volunteered to clear the most dangerous route at the time, on what was supposed to be his day off. That day, they drove their RG-31 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle over an IED that exploded. Lane was severely wounded — more than 26 injuries including the loss of both his legs.
Lane showed photos of the blast’s damage to the vehicle, including the 4-inch thick glass windshield that was shattered when his head hit it, causing a traumatic brain injury.
Lane kept a sense of humor as he described the extent of his injuries.
“They had to cut me open down my perfectly chiseled abs, open me up and go in and fix everything,” he said.
His physical body was forever changed that day, but not his strong will.
When doctors told him he would never walk with prosthetics because of the nature of his injuries, he was determined to prove them wrong, and he did.
They told him he would not be able to speak properly, and as a musician it was devastating to hear he would never sing again because of damage to his vocal cords. But today he is a guest speaker, and part of his presentation is singing and playing guitar.
Looking back on that day, Lane could focus on the minuses, but what he sees are the miracles. If one leg hadn’t been severed in the blast that day, he would have died. In that sense, he feels grateful for the amputation because it saved him.
The medevac crew was a godsend; they were able to keep him stable and quickly transport him to the help he needed at the hospital.
He was told he died twice on the operating table, so the fact that he is alive is a miracle.
The doctors were not sure if Lane would awake from the coma; and if he did, it was questionable as to what his brain function would be. The miracles continued the day he woke up, and his father passed him a note with the words, “Can you read this?” When Lane looked at the note and nodded his head ‘Yes,’ his family in the room were moved to tears.
By telling his story, Lane encourages others to “never give up” — if he can make it through dark times, so can they.
He described the four “pillars” of holistic health and fitness that keep the Army’s people strong: physical, mental, social and spiritual.
Before the incident, Lane bench pressed 180 lbs. Now, he bench presses over 300, and participates in physical training with Soldiers as travels around to various installations. In fact, it was his continued commitment to fitness that brought him to one of his greatest blessings, his spouse Crystal, whom he met at a gym.
His mental toughness is evident in his “never surrender” attitude, and how he overcame thoughts of suicide multiple times by replacing those with thoughts of purpose.
“I’ve been through war, I’ve been through hell and back, lost my legs and more, but … I want to live the best life I possibly can,” he said.
The Purple Heart recipient said he presses forward rather than taking the easy route of giving up. Believing God wasn't finished with him yet, Lane said his faith has served as an anchor for him. His love for creating and performing music is an expression of his spiritual resiliency.
The familiar Army expression, “I’ve got your six” is something brothers and sisters in arms demonstrate not just in the good times but more so on each other’s worst day on the planet, Lane said.
“I was at my worst point, and my battle buddies spent their hard-earned money and flew in from different states across the nation just to spend an afternoon with me,” he said. “That’s leadership. That’s family.”
Just as Soldiers do not fight alone on battlefields, Lane encouraged Soldiers to fight the “war within” together, because support from fellow Soldiers can help save a life.
“We’re a family and that’s how we should be doing it every single day no matter what,” he said.
“Giving them that little bit of time, encouraging them to keep pushing through the fight, and (knowing) that you’re going to be there through it all — you don’t know what that can do for them,” he said.
Lane’s message is all about being an overcomer in life. In fact, with a smile on his face he has a few choice words for the adversity that entered his life that day in Afghanistan: