Double-amputee returns to the frontlines

Afghanistan Amputee Soldier Dan Luckett

In this Sept. 14, 2010 photo, U.S. Capt. Dan Luckett, 27, of Norcross, Ga., takes a seat at Combat Outpost Ashoqeh in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Luckett lost his left leg and part of his right foot in a bomb blast in Iraq in 2008. The Pentagon says 41 American amputee veterans are now serving in combat zones worldwide. Photo by Todd Pitman. Credit: Associated Press.

Technological advances have not only changed the way amputees can continue leading active lifestyles, it has also changed the sphere in which disability is regarded in the armed services. According to the Pentagon, to date, some 41 American amputee veterans now serve in combat zones worldwide.

The technological advances seen in artificial limbs has been a crucial factor in the return of soldiers, like Dan Luckett, to their careers in the armed forces. Luckett recently made headline news as a double amputee returning to the frontline using his new prosthetics: a removable carbon fiber plate that runs under the foot and fills the space where toes should be with hardened foam on his right foot, and a prosthetic leg on his left. You can read more on Luckett’s extensive injuries here.

While Luckett’s injuries were relatively clean cut, as he was spared any injury from shrapnel, rather having his leg and foot melted off by molten copper from an explosively formed penetrator (one supposes this is a message of being grateful for small miracles), doctors still urged Luckett to take his therapy on the new prosthetic leg slowly. By the second day of physical therapy with the prosthetic, Luckett walked out of the hospital on the prosthetic and a pair of crutches — more a battle of will between he and doctors, not a testament of miraculous healing. But by February 2009, nearly a year after he stubbornly walked out of the hospital with his new leg and foot, he had progressed so far that he could run a mile in eight minutes.

Luckett joined his unit at Fort Cambell and several months later had passed a physical fitness test in which he attained the Expert Infantryman’s Badge. The test required running 12 miles in under three hours with a 35-pound backpack. Luckett recognized the test as being crucial and, as he describes in an interview for this article, that if he could earn this badge that nothing could be said that he wasn’t capable of doing.

The Army agreed, and promoted him to captain.

In May of this year, Luckett deployed to Afghanistan. While his fellow troops treat him no differently from any other soldier in the field with him, Luckett has earned a nickname while over there..though the nickname was given to him by a shocked group of Afghan soldiers. Upon taking a knee while on patrol, his pants leg rode up, revealing a part of his prosthetic limb to a group of nearby Afghan soldiers. One gave him the nickname the “One-legged Warrior of Ashoqeh.” Quite poetic — wonder what nickname they would have given him had they seen his foamy right foot!

Luckett keeps several prosthetic legs in his bunk, each designed for different tasks, each with a carbon fiber socket that attaches to his thigh. One is fitted with a tennis shoe for running while the other is fitted with a boot. Another, made from rust-proof aluminum, has a waterproof Croc for showering. But by far the most important prosthetic leg in his arsenal has a high-tech axle that allows him to move smoothly over uneven terrain while on patrols. Best part, his squad leader painted its toenails purple.

You can read more on Luckett, the even leading up to his injuries and the extent of the injuries themselves, as well as what his life is like with the new prosthesis on the frontlines in this article from the associated press.

Related:
Pitman, Todd. “Wounded in Iraq, Double-amputee Returns to War.” Yahoo!News. Associated Press, 25 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.

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