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No Turning Back

One Man's Inspiring True Story of Courage, Determination, and Hope

Bryan Anderson - Author

David Mack - Author

ePub eBook | $12.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101558775 | 272 pages | 01 Nov 2011 | Berkley | 18 - AND UP
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The word conquer has changed meaning for Bryan Anderson. As a U.S. Army Sergeant in Iraq, it meant taking down the enemy. After becoming Iraq’s fourth triple amputee from a roadside explosive, what he had to conquer got a bit more personal.

On October 23, 2005, the moment Bryan looked down and realized he no longer had legs, he cracked a joke. It was a tragedy that could break many, but Bryan transformed it into something positive, something that propelled him forward. Despite grueling surgeries and rehabilitation, his goal has always been bigger than simply walking again. Making the most of life, he went for it, learning how to snowboard, water-ski, rock climb, and skateboard with his condition—even winning himself some gold medals to place next to his Purple Heart.

In this inspiring memoir, Bryan shares his infectious love for life that touches anyone who’s faced hardship. Anyone, in any circumstance, can overcome the toughest challenges, by not just surviving, but thriving. No Turning Back is a testament to pure hard work, perseverance, and hope for a better life—no matter what shape it takes.


FOREWORD

By Gary Sinise

I first met Bryan Anderson in 2006, not too long after he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I have been visiting the hospital regularly since 2003, and over the years have met many severely wounded warriors. Bryan was the second triple amputee I had met there and when I walked into the physical therapy room there he was, up on his legs and smiling, eager to tell me his story and with the most amazing and upbeat attitude.

It turned out that we are both originally from Illinois and we shared stories of familiar places where we had grown up. His spirit was infectious and I was immediately drawn to him. In the picture included here, you can see that smile—a smile that immediately put everyone he came in contact with at ease.

Bryan knew that for most visitors to the hospital, coming in contact with someone who was missing both his legs and an arm might be difficult, so he went out of his way to joke and laugh and go on as if nothing was different. He had begun to accept what had happened to him and was looking toward the future—a future of what he could do, not what he couldn’t do.

That positive attitude of living each moment of one’s life for everything it’s worth is at the core of who Bryan Anderson is.

After that first meeting, I would see Bryan from time to time back at the hospital or at other events around the country—like the Friday night dinners for wounded warriors at Fran O’Brien’s restaurant, hosted by Vietnam veteran Hal Koster, or back in Illinois at the USO gala or at a concert I was playing with my band, the Lt. Dan Band. Whenever I can, I try to let Bryan know where I am going to be and am always thrilled to see him at an event or concert.

And then, in January 2007, there he is on the cover of Esquire magazine! Clearly his story caught the attention of the national media, and for good reason. It is a harrowing and inspiring story and Bryan is an exceptional individual. The Esquire story also caught the attention of my fellow producers on CSI: NY and they asked if I knew him. Boom! Bryan was featured as a murder suspect in one of our episodes. He’s a natural.

In April 2009, on another visit to Walter Reed, I met Brendan Marrocco, the first soldier to survive losing all four limbs in a bombing in Iraq. As I drove away from the hospital, I called Bryan and told him about Brendan. I thought perhaps he could help and asked if there was any way that he could visit him.

Within days, Bryan was at Brendan’s bedside and I know that for Brendan, having Bryan there at that critical stage was extremely helpful. To Bryan, this was a no-brainer. Of course he would go, as he has taken what has happened to him and turned it into motivation for others.

Whenever I see Bryan, he renews my faith that anything, no matter how tough it is, can be overcome. It is because of men and women like Bryan, those who have given so much in service to our country, that I am constantly energized to keep up the important work on behalf of our service members through the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Bryan Anderson is just simply a great American who inspires me and I am proud to call him my friend. It is an honor to know him and I am thrilled that he has decided to share his story in this wonderful book so that more of our fellow citizens will have the chance to know him as well.

God Bless.

Gary Sinise July 27, 2011

ALIVE DAY

On the day I got blown up, it was hot as hell. It was about eleven o’clock in the morning on October 23, 2005, in sunny downtown Baghdad, Iraq, and if I had to guess, I’d say it was a hundred and thirty degrees in the shade.

I was a specialist in the U.S. Army, 411th Military Police Company. Me and my guys were on our second tour in Iraq. We’d been designated as the “commander’s escort.” We were like a personal security detail for our commanding officer, who we’d nicknamed “Captain America” because whatever happened anywhere in Baghdad, he just wanted to be in the thick of it. Whenever anything happened, he was like “Let’s go! I want to do this! I want to get involved! I wanna conquer the world!”

Before you get the wrong idea, let me just say that I think his attitude was not a good thing. In my opinion, he was putting our lives in danger for no reason, just because he wanted people to think he was a “hands-on” kind of leader.

The reason we’d gotten stuck on that crap detail was that we’d worked with him once, and he’d said, “You know what? These are the people that I want to come out with me. They know their shit, they know what they’re doing.” Our punishment for being competent was getting to babysit him everywhere he went for the next year. Lucky us.

It’s not like he didn’t have plenty of other people to choose from. A company is roughly 150 soldiers, divided into four platoons, all doing a variety of missions. As MPs (military police officers), we had several tasks: We were training Iraqi police officers at the police academy. We were also going out to the police stations and teaching them basic upkeep; we taught them to maintain clean jail cells and how to stock enough food, ammunition, weapons, vehicles, and other supplies. We made sure they knew how to do a patrol and how to do a raid.

Other MPs handled transport security, such as MSR patrol, which is guarding a main supply route. In other words, if there was a main road that our troops traveled on a lot, we’d drive up and down it, making sure people weren’t laying IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and stuff like that. Some folks manned the gate and guarded the base. Everybody had a job to do.

For me and seven of my buddies, our job was driving Captain America through downtown hell.

Every day we would go and visit the Iraqi police stations. If any of our guys got hit by an IED, or if there was an attack, we would divert and respond to that, but the bulk of our work was a daily tour of the Iraqi police stations. We didn’t understand why we were going there; there were squad leaders and platoon sergeants who were designated to supervise those operations. If the CO had wanted to go out there once a week just to make sure nothing had burned down, that would’ve been okay, but every day? The noncoms manning those stations knew their jobs, and they were doing them just fine. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to say to Captain America, “There’s simply no reason to go out there every day. You’re not the one that’s doing the job. And by going out there every day, you’re pissing off your sergeants by making them feel like you don’t trust them. Plus, you’re putting nine lives in danger that you don’t really need to.”

That’s how I felt, but I didn’t get a say in the matter, so that morning me and my guys saddled up for another tour of Baghdad’s police stations. Every morning, we would get up about an hour before we had to leave. That morning we got up around ten because we’d been on a mission late the night before. My team and I were wearing DCUs (desert camouflage uniforms) with long sleeves, and we had our Kevlar helmets and twenty-five-pound body- armor vests with shoulder pads and kidney pads. I was wearing my nine-millimeter pistol in my right thigh holster. I also had a sawed-off twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun (for entry through locked doors; you’d blow the lock—BOOM!—and then kick the door open) and a SAW (squad automatic weapon) M249, a fully automatic belt-fed machine gun. Because I was the driver, I got the M249, and since I was also an entry man, I got the shotgun, too. Being an MP, I carried my nine- mil— not everyone gets nine-mils. Not everybody gets a lot of things, but because of my multiple jobs I was all weaponed up.

As the driver, I had to make sure my truck was good to go. It’s called a PMCS, which stands for “preventive maintenance checks and services.” I checked the oil, the tires and the air filter, and then I made sure there was gas in it. Of course, after every mission you always top off—always. You never know when you might get sent out again, so you’ve always gotta be ready. Next, I started putting my gear where I needed it to go. The gunner, Brad Gietzel, started mounting the gun on top of the truck. Me and my pal Kenny Olson were sitting up front, setting the radios, making sure that they worked and that we had communication with the TOCC (Tactical Operations Command Center).

At around eleven o’clock, we headed out.

Inside the truck, it was really hot. Most of the trucks had air-conditioning, but in half of them it didn’t work. When it did, it wasn’t strong, and it didn’t cool the truck down. My truck—and once you’re assigned a truck, it’s your truck—had working a/c, but to be honest, it didn’t do shit. At the end of the day, when I’d get off mission and take off my body armor, my DCUs would look like I’d just jumped in a pool. I mean, they’d be drenched. From the moment I stepped outside in Iraq, I was sweating my balls off. The only time I was comfortable was when I was back at base and in PTs—a T-shirt and shorts. That’s it. When I didn’t have body armor on and could just walk around the base in DCUs, it wasn’t so bad either. But being on a mission, all suited up in the heat, it sucked.

My Humvee’s interior was a cramped, green oven. It stank of diesel fumes from the engine. The housing for the drivetrain ran up the middle of the cab, and it got really hot. If my leg was up against it, it’d cook to medium rare in about a minute. And there was always dust from the street everywhere—up my nose, in my throat, coating my teeth with grit.

The other thing I noticed inside the truck was the hum. When the engine was running, I felt it— not just with my hands on the steering wheel but in the seat of my pants. Near the end of my first year and the start of my second year in Iraq, that hum and the feeling that went with it kind of made me feel comfortable—safe. I could fall asleep inside or on top of my truck, no problem. I came to think of my truck as a safe place—maybe the only safe place I had.

You see, I thought the protection on my Humvee was pretty good. It was an up-armored model already, with added steel plating and ballistic-resistant windows, and then my squad and I had put some soft armor— aluminum plates— on the truck ourselves. We put plates on the turret guard, the gunner’s shield, and the extra plates that go on the doors. So we thought we had a pretty good ride. Whenever I did my services-and-maintenances, I was sure I had a pretty kick-ass truck.

But it wasn’t just about the armor. My truck was like my home. When I was in the driver’s seat, I had everything I needed. On my right, I always had a Pepsi and a bag of sunflower seeds. Kenny, who rode shotgun, always drank Dr Pepper. There was a lot of space between all of us inside the vehicle. The radio mount separated me and Kenny, and Gietzel was well behind us in the middle of the truck. Behind Gietzel, at the back of the truck, we had a cooler in the middle on the floor, and it was stocked with water and Gatorade.

My M249 and my shotgun were lying on the floor to the right of my seat.

Slung from the top in the back, tucked into the back corner of the overhead, we had our M136 AT4 cannon—an antitank weapon.

We’d set it up so that all Gietzel needed to do was pull a string. That would undo a slipknot and drop the weapon right into his hands, so he could just pick it up and open fire, if he’d needed to.

Over my head, by the visor, I’d made a mesh web out of 550 cord, which looks like green rope but is actually a multipurpose nylon cord. If you cut 550 cord, inside it has a bunch of smaller white fibers braided together, and you can pull out individual strands if you need to do something small. I’d tied some of those white strands into a net so I could store stuff above my visor. I had a little notebook with nine-line medevac instructions. For a medevac, there are nine things you have to say when you’re calling in a helicopter to come pick up a wounded soldier—What’s the injury? How bad is it? Where are you? Is it coalition forces or Iraqi forces? and so on—so it’s nice to just have that book right there and be able to follow the steps and not have to think about it.

I also kept a pack of gum up in the net, and my gloves always went up there. So did my goggles, glasses, sunglasses, or whatever. I also stowed my iPod up there, in the corner, along with a pair of sports earphones. Those always stayed in the truck. I’d made it so I could just pull one earphone down and put it on my left ear so I could hear everything that was going on to my right inside the truck—my buddies, the radio, and all that—and still, at the same time, rock out to my music. I also had speakers up there, for times when all of us felt like hearing some tunes, such as when we were hanging out in the motor pool or elsewhere on base. The best part? As the driver (and owner of the iPod), I got to pick the music. We’d listen to rock, punk, and even some soft stuff. One of our favorites was Linkin Park.

Technically, I wasn’t supposed to have the iPod in the truck, but whether it came out or not depended on who was in my truck. If it was just me and my guys, it was no big deal, but the iPod stayed out of sight when the commander or some other big shot rode with us.

Most of all though, when I was in my truck I felt I had more control over my destiny. In the barracks you had mortar rounds coming at you and you never knew where they were gonna hit. All you could do was run for cover. But in my truck I had my weapons, I was mobile, and I could take action. I could find out where the danger was coming from and take care of it.

But I didn’t have much control the day I got blown up.

The day was just getting started. We were only a mile or two from base.

My first year in Iraq, I’d just plowed through traffic. If any cars got in my way, I’d push them clear with my truck. I’d smashed a bunch of cars—it had been kind of fun.

During my second tour, the Army changed the protocol because of all the vehicle IEDs. We started calling them VBIDs (vehicle- borne improvised explosive devices). To deal with that new threat, we’d started leaving a cushion. We would get behind traffic and stay back 250 yards so that there was a nice bubble between us and the civilian vehicles. Then we wouldn’t let anyone get within 250 yards behind us either.

So we had five football fields’ worth of empty road, and we were driving.

To make this protocol work, you can’t drive very fast. You end up cruising at around five miles per hour. Bored, I was slouched in my seat, with my hands together at the bottom of the steering wheel. I sat with my left leg curled up under my right leg, which was down for driving—half Indian style. Kenny and I were passing the time bullshitting, and he said something funny about our CO. I laughed as I took my right hand off the steering wheel and reached down to grab my smokes. Now, I wasn’t supposed to smoke in my Humvee. It’s against regs, but I didn’t give a shit since Captain America was in the lead truck and I was in the rear truck. So I grabbed my smokes and pulled one out, and I was still lookin’ at Kenny because we were still talking.

As I lit my cigarette, the explosion went off .

For some reason, I didn’t hear it. I only saw it, out of the corner of my eye, to the left of me. The next thing I knew, everything was completely pitch-black. I couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t because I was knocked out. There was just so much smoke inside the truck that I couldn’t see shit. My first reaction was to look to my right, where everyone else was in relation to me inside the truck, and I called out, “Hey! Are you all right? We just got hit!”

I didn’t hear anything— nobody answered. And I thought, Shit! Are they dead? Twisting around, I strained to see through the smoke.

Understand that I had no idea I’d been hit; at that point I was worried only about my guys, not myself. I didn’t feel anything, no pain— not yet, anyway. So I struggled to pierce the curtain of smoke, but I saw nothing but green. I was totally confused. Why am I seeing green? I tried to sit back in my seat, but when I did, I rolled onto my back, and my head fell backward. Then I wondered, Why did my head fall backward?

When the explosion went off, it had cut off my legs and left hand instantly. My legs were on the floorboard, my hand was in the passenger seat—Kenny told me later that my hand had hit him in the face—and the blast had spun me sideways, so that I was lying on my back in my seat. When I’d looked to my right and saw green, I’d been looking at the back of my seat.

After my head fell backward, I figured out I was on my back. While I was lying there, I couldn’t see anything, but I was trying to figure out where everybody was and if anybody in my truck was dead, because I didn’t know. Then, for some reason, I thought, All right, get out! Get out of the truck! But I couldn’t. I had no idea why I couldn’t get out, but I simply couldn’t make it happen. So I started shouting, “Yo! I can’t get out! Help! Help!”

The reason no one had answered when I’d called out earlier was that Kenny and Gietzel had jumped out immediately. Kenny, it turned out, had some shrapnel in his hip and his wrist, as well as number of superficial wounds, and Gietzel had caught some shrapnel in his ass—the Forrest Gump wound. When he’d jumped out, he’d landed on his back and started croaking, “Ow! My ass, my ass!” He stayed down as Kenny ran to the truck in front of us, the second truck.

The driver of the second truck was Michael Wait. Wait opened his door, and he and Kenny both looked back at my truck. Wait said, “Hey, Anderson’s not out of the vehicle yet! Let’s go back and get him!” They ran back. I think Kenny had an idea what they were gonna find, because he had seen my severed hand on the passenger seat when he’d gotten out.

I was lying in the truck, bleeding and unable to move, when I heard them start to work on my door. In Iraq, we combat-locked the doors. There were two steel plates that slid down over the frame so that nobody could just yank open the doors. We needed that because the doors on military vehicles don’t have regular locks. What the insurgents had started doing was running up, opening the doors, and yanking soldiers out of the Humvees. To prevent that, we’d started combat-locking our trucks. It also helped against IEDs, because when the big ones started going off, they had been blowing our doors open. That had been a big part of what was getting our guys killed: once the doors were open, all the after-shit poured in— fire, smoke, and shrapnel. So this extra precaution had become part of our protocol.

Well, in my situation, that kind of sucked because I was in no shape to operate my lock like the other guys had been able to do.

Luckily, we had just gotten some special tools that looked like small tire irons and were made to fit the bolts on the outside of the door. Those locks would just fall off once you turned those bolts. Thanks to those tools, Wait and Kenny got me out of the vehicle in under thirty seconds. I mean, it was really fast. Kenny and Wait each undid a bolt and spun ’em loose, and then Wait opened the door. He saw me, and he just kind of froze. He just stood there with his mouth half open, staring at me, not making a sound. Kenny put his hand on Wait’s back and pushed him forward as he said, “Just go! Just go! We’ll think about it later!”

Wait pulled me out of the truck. As I cleared the door frame, I got a breath of fresh air—well, as fresh as you’re gonna get when it’s 120 degrees in southeast Baghdad and you’re next to a smoldering truck, but it was better than what I’d been breathing inside the Humvee—and it sharpened me right up. I was still in shock, but I was completely aware of what was going on.

Kenny and Wait got me to the sidewalk and laid me down. As I lay on the dusty pavement, I was thinking, “All right, what’s going on? Are we being shot at? Do I need to be shooting somebody right now? What’s happening? Are we being attacked?” But mostly I was thinking, “Shit! My mom’s gonna kill me!”

I was looking around and trying to get a handle on where everyone was and what they were doing. I knew I was in shock, and my eyes were just wandering. I think I was just searching for something to lock onto— gunfire or some other sign we were being attacked, something that would let me know what I needed to do next. I was really just kind of concentrating and asking myself, Do I hear gunfire? Do I hear explosions? Do I hear anything?

All I could see was my friends running back and forth between me and the second truck, over and over, so I figured out we weren’t still being attacked. Okay, I thought, we’re clear.

At that point I was able to kind of relax, but as I kept looking at my friends, I knew something was wrong. I knew I’d had to be pulled out of the vehicle, that I hadn’t been able to get out by myself, so I knew that there had to be something wrong. I just didn’t know what yet.

I sensed there was blood all over my face.

The flies in Iraq are really nasty, and they were buzzing around my eyes like something out of The Exorcist, and I raised my right hand to swat them away.

That’s when I noticed for the first time that the tip of my index finger was gone.

Well, that got my attention. My whole hand looked like ground beef stuck together with dirt, but I knew my friends couldn’t be freaking out about that. Then I turned my hand over to see the back of it, and I saw there was a whole chunk of it missing between my thumb and forefinger. I could see into my hand, right down to the shattered bones and the torn ligaments and shredded muscles. It was really nasty.

But as I looked at my hand, I was thinking, Well, that’s not so bad.

I was still trying to figure out why my friends were freaking out when a fat-ass horsefly landed on my eye. I lifted my left hand to shoo it away, and there was nothing—I just whiffed. That was a “whoa” moment. I looked over, and my left sleeve was just kind of hanging. It was soaked and dripping with blood.

As I stared at that empty space where my left hand used to be, all I could think was, Fuck.

That, I figured, could maybe be what my guys were losing their shit over. So I looked back at them, and then I looked up at my arm, and I thought to myself, Okay, but that’s not that bad. That’s not gonna kill me. That’s what I told myself while I was lying there.

Then I looked down.

As I tried to lift my head off the asphalt to look at the rest of my body, Wait tried to force my head back onto the ground, to stop me from seeing what had happened, but it was too late; I’d already seen what had happened.

My legs were gone.

The first thought that went through my head was, Fuck—that did not just happen.

But it had. After I took a few seconds to process it, I decided, Well, things are gonna be a little different from now on.

I looked up, and for the first time since being pulled from the Humvee, I made direct eye contact with someone. I knew I needed to say something to my guys, but I didn’t know what to tell them. I don’t know why, but I reached up and grabbed Wait’s arm and said, “Holy shit, dude! Do you think I’ll ever get laid again?” And he started laughing.

Later on, he told me, “When you said that, it made me realize that you were still in there. It wasn’t just a body on a sidewalk.” That put him back on track. Before I’d said that, he’d been fumbling with the tourniquets and all that stuff, but once I’d cracked a joke, he just snapped into action, and it was all like boom-boom-boom. The doctors said they’d never seen even medics put on tourniquets as well as Wait had that day. They were beyond good—they were perfect.

Once all the tourniquets were tied, Wait and Kenny sat with me while I lay there for twelve minutes, waiting for the medevac chopper.

With time to think, I finally noticed the pain. My body was in shock, so most of what I felt was a burning sensation. It felt a lot like it did when I used Icy Hot, at the point when the icy sensation goes away and leaves nothing but heat—except over every inch of my body.

I nudged Wait. “Hey, man, it’s really hard to breathe.”

Wait leaned over me. “Okay, open your mouth. Have you got anything in there?”

Kenny looked over Wait’s shoulder. “Did you swallow a tooth or something?”

“No.” I probed my mouth with my tongue, to make sure all my teeth were still attached. They were, so I grinned at my guys. “I’m good.”

I found out later that what had happened was that the concussion of the blast had collapsed my right lung; that’s why my breathing had become so difficult and painful. All I knew at the moment was I was having trouble breathing, but I wasn’t really panicked about it. I lay really still and thought, I don’t feel like I’m gonna die . . . I’m not gonna die.

I think that if you’re in this kind of situation and you’re gonna die, you just know that you’re going to die. I never had that feeling. I was sure I was gonna be all right. At the same time I didn’t want to take any chances, so I told myself, Yeah, it hurts, and it’s hard to breathe, but just keep goin’ through the motions. A little air is better than no air.

I took small breaths, short gasps, whatever I could, and I just kept on doing that. Then I said to myself, Stay awake! Keep talkin’ to these guys. If you stay awake, keep breathin’, and keep talkin’, you’re gonna be fine. So that’s what I did.

I think one of the big reasons I didn’t bleed out was that the bomb that hit my truck was an EFP (explosively formed penetrator). Any explosion— grenades, bombs, mortars, anything— blows up and out. An IED unleashes so much energy that it just goes in every direction. An EFP takes that energy and harnesses it and makes it all go in one direction, or just a few directions. EFPs are made with a cement cylinder roughly five inches in diameter that is closed on one end. It’s filled with explosives and then the open end is covered with a metal plate. They get like five of these EFPs, and they stick them close together, all aimed upward, each at a slightly different angle, so that when they explode they unleash a wall of energy. Instead of blowing up and out, all its force goes wherever the EFP was aimed.

The insurgents used to pack their IEDs with plastic explosives— Semtex, C4, whatever they could get their hands on—and then they’d throw in nails, broken glass, rocks, ball bearings, anything they could get. Then they’d cover them with copper plates. When one blew up, all that energy slammed into its plate, which got so hot that it liquefied instantly.

That superheated liquid metal was what pierced my truck’s armor. It didn’t punch a hole; it melted one. At the same time, as that jet of molten copper cut off my legs and hand, it cauterized the wounds, which stopped a lot of the bleeding and gave me a fighting chance to survive. I don’t want to take any credit away from Wait, because he did an amazing job, but he’d have had a much harder time keeping me alive if my femoral arteries hadn’t been seared shut.

Another bit of luck was that if I’d been driving any faster, I and everyone else in my truck that day would be dead. The reason why has to do with how that IED had been set.

At some point prior to the explosion, one of our tanks rolled over that road’s median strip and crushed its curb. When the Iraqis saw that, one of them must have thought, Oh, that looks like a good place for a bomb. So they swept it out, measured it, got the dimensions, built a bomb to fit that space, plastered over it, painted it, and set it into that section of the median, so that as we were driving along, it all looked like one long curb.

To trigger it, there had been an invisible laser beam across the street. The Iraqis used lasers or hard-line command-detonation systems because our trucks were outfitted with Warlock systems, multifrequency jammers that block every radio-detonator frequency within a 250-yard radius around the vehicle so that no one can remote- detonate any IEDs.

The way laser detonators worked was that the Iraqis would have a spotter watch a road. After all the civilian traffic had passed— remember that we had 250-yard buffers between us and other traffic in both directions— the spotter would activate the laser sensor, which would shoot a steady, invisible beam across the road. The Iraqis usually set their laser detonators to go off after five clicks, but it could be more or less, depending on what vehicle they were aiming for. Most U.S. convoys in Iraq consisted of three to five vehicles, but we always had at least three. We never went anywhere with fewer than three teams.

My truck had been the last vehicle in the convoy that morning. The IED that hit us had been set to detonate on the fifth click. Each truck would cause two clicks—one when it first broke the beam, another when it cleared the beam. So, the first truck rolled by: click-click. The second truck went by: click-click. Then my truck’s front tire hit the beam: click-BOOM.

Here’s the catch: the bomb’s timer had been primed with the assumption that it would be aimed at a vehicle traveling roughly thirty-five miles per hour, but I had been driving at barely five miles per hour, so my truck was hit while still shy of the bomb’s optimal kill zone.

It still did some awesome damage, though: the whole front of my truck looked like it had been ripped apart by a giant can opener.

You want to know what’s really ironic about my story?

One of the things I love most in life is speed. I love to drive fast, that sensation of acceleration. But on October 23, 2005, driving slowly saved my life and the lives of my friends.

Go figure.



When the medevac chopper came, it was actually kind of amazing. The pilot had been told not to land there because our position was between an overpass, a building, and some high-voltage electrical lines. But the pilot said, “This kid is dead if we don’t land.” He set his bird down on the street with barely a foot of clearance in each direction. My guys laid themselves over me so the rotor wash wouldn’t drive any more dust and dirt into my wounds.

The next thing I remember was bouncing on the stretcher as I was carried to the helicopter. Once we got inside the helicopter, I looked up at medic and said, “Man, it’s really hard to breathe. I need some air.”

“All right, man. Hold on—let me lock you in.” He lowered the hood over my stretcher, and I heard the locks click shut. Then he looped an oxygen line over my head and stuck the two little tubes up my nose.

As the oxygen kicked in, I began to feel comfortable enough to start letting go. I exhaled and relaxed because I knew I was going for a ride. That’s when I finally passed out.

I’d survived being blown up— but as I was about to learn, that had been the easy part.

"When I met Bryan Anderson, I knew I was meeting someone exceptional. He put me immediately at ease. Here he was, this triple amputee, with every reason to be pissed off at the world, meeting someone who never wore the uniform. He pulled himself up on the chair, smiled with that shit-eating grin of his, and told me his astounding story.
Bryan is among that rare breed of hero, that takes in all the worst the world can heap on you, and lets it make him stronger, and makes the rest of us want to be better....he will make you think, and he will make you laugh, and you will be better for having read [his book]."
-James Gandolfini


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