AW2 Veteran Bryan Anderson spoke to Booz Allen Hamilton employees in McLean, VA, November 9.
The best part of my job in supporting AW2, is when I actually get to speak to a Soldier, Veteran, or Family member. I am overwhelmed by their strength—a strength to begin their lives anew after unimaginable hardships. This week, I had the privilege of attending a discussion on “Taking Advantage of Opportunities and Overcoming Challenges” by AW2 Veteran Bryan Anderson.
Bryan is an Iraq War Veteran and one of a few surviving triple amputees. I was able to hear Bryan’s inspiring story spoken from his heart with honesty and humor.
He enlisted in the Army in April 2001 and his actual ‘ship out’ date was September 11, 2001. He and the other recruits huddled up by a TV that day. Eventually, they boarded a bus to basic training. Bryan was assigned to the Military Police and gained law enforcement experience at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. In March 10, 2003, he was sent to Iraq with his team. Although not afraid to do their jobs, as they had been well-trained, a fear of the unknown lingered among them.
When Bryan crossed the charred border and through the shattered wall into Iraq, he saw women and children cheering for their convoy, and he knew they needed to help these people.
“It was the most incredible thing to see a third world country — hundreds of people living in mud huts. We focused on helping people.”
Bryan completed his first tour and expected to not be deployed again or to have at least a year off. He celebrated with his friends back in the United States, which ended up including a late night group bonding nipple piercing party.
“It hurt so much. I’d rather get blown up again.”
After being home for four months, he found out he would deploy again in four months. He was told things had gotten worse in Iraq because of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). When he heard his first IED, it was earsplitting, “you could feel it throughout your whole body.” Within a six mile radius, around 60 IEDs would go off during the course of any given day.
On October 23, 2005, Bryan was driving in a convoy when his High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee) was hit by an IED. His legs and arm were detached from his body immediately, and his torso was turned around in his seat.
“I saw a flash and didn’t hear anything. Then I saw smoke and asked if everyone was ok. I didn’t get an answer. I saw green.”
The explosion had turned Bryan’s body around and he was facing the Humvee seat. His team had left the Humvee to stop the convoy and returned for him. They were shocked at his condition and took him to safety. Bryan knew they were “freaking out” but didn’t know why yet. He saw that he was missing a tip of a finger and knew that couldn’t be it. He went to wipe his face with his other hand and saw that his arm was not there. Then he got a glimpse of where his legs should have been and his friends pulled him back from looking at his injuries.
“I knew that must be it.”
Bryan made a joke about wondering if he would ever enjoy the company of a woman again and eased his friends’ worries. They all laughed and knew he was still with them. He was evacuated and woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center with his Family by his side a week later and thought, “I missed the whole flight back home. That’s awesome!”
With his Family’s support, Bryan went through therapy and healing without anything bothering him. But after about four months, he saw his naked body in the shower and thought of himself as “half a person.” He suffered from anxiety and sleeplessness.
“After a few weeks of not living, I knew I had to figure a way to get out,” he said.
Bryan started listening to a band called Rise Against, made up of his high school classmates, and their song “Survive” inspired him to pull himself up and he said, “Let’s get outta here Mom… Let’s go to Vegas!”
Their trip to Vegas showed Bryan that he could have fun and not think about what happened to him. So he decided to have fun all the time. He started trying all sorts of sports and did almost everything he did before. He was featured on the cover of Esquire Magazine and then he went on to be a spokesperson and appear on TV shows and movies (and even a comic book.)
Bryan is about “doing what it takes to get what I want” from recovery to living a fulfilling life post-injury. While at Walter Reed, several wounded Soldiers were meeting up to go out together. Bryan and his friend, a double leg amputee, were late meeting up with the group and missed their ride. They still wanted to meet up with the group and tried to find someone to drive them to no avail. Bryan remembered that his mother’s rental car was in the parking lot and the two conspired to drive the car. Bryan was in charge of steering and his friend sat on the floor using his hands to press the gas and brake pedals. With good communication and teamwork, the two made it to their destination to the amazement of the rest of the group. However on their return trip back to Walter Reed, Bryan realized he didn’t have a driver’s license or identification (ID) to get back onto post. He showed his friend’s ID quickly in the hopes the gate guard would not notice. To their dismay, the gate guard asked them to pull over for a random inspection. The guard walked up to the car, opened the driver-side door, and asked Bryan to step out of the car. There was Bryan, a triple amputee, and his friend, a double amputee, both on the driver side of the car.
“He just froze and stared at us for like a minute — a minute of silence. Finally, he said ‘Sh@#, you made it this far — just go!'”
“Opportunities can come in extraordinary ways. Think outside the box and do something about it. It’s all about change. You don’t know where life will take you. There is so much out there. Experience life — you only live once,” Bryan said.
Most people do shy away from change (you know who you are). Bryan is out there inspiring us to not fear change, but to embrace it. If you don’t try something, how will you know where it may take you?
Thank you Bryan for your service and for inspiring others with your amazing story and your love of life.
Bryan, Iraq War Veteran and triple amputee, is the National Spokesman for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Corp. and a spokesman for USA Cares, a nonprofit organization. Bryan has appeared in the HBO documentary, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, and CSI: NY, The Wrestler, MTV News, Choose or Lose Street Team, and All My Children, and on the cover of Esquire Magazine. He is also the subject of the Captain America comic, Theater of War—to Soldier on. For more information on Bryan, visit his Web site at www.andersonactive.com.