15 July 2010

They call him "The One-Legged Warlord of Ashaque"

Afghan soldiers examine Capt. Dan Luckett's prosthetic leg. The soldiers quickly gave him a nickname: "The One-Legged Warlord of Ashaque." Photo: Spc. Joe Padula/U.S. Army.

Heard my radios and one of my squad leaders said, 'Hey is everybody all right in 1-6 vehicle?' And I keyed the mike and went, 'Negative, negative my feet are gone.'

- Capt. Dan Luckett

Actually, it was his left leg and part of his right foot. But that was back in 2008 in Iraq. Today, Captain Dan Luckett is deployed with the 101st Airborne Division in the Zhari district just north of Kandahar city in Afghanistan.

Like everyone else, he goes on patrols and lifts weights in his spare time. The only difference is that he just has some additional gear with him - a collection of prosthetic legs.

"This one's 'combat-action ankle Luckett,'" says Luckett, as he shows off his collection of prosthetic legs.

"This is my running leg here. It's real light and gives you a lot of energy return," Luckett says.

He has a half dozen spares. Some sit on his foot locker, others lean against his cot, waiting to be picked.

"Then all these legs are held on through suction, so you have little air valve in the bottom — there you can see the hole," Luckett explains.

He talks about each one like a carpenter brags about a new set of tools. One leg wears a sneaker. Another has a plastic foot complete with toenails, he says letting out a laugh.

Luckett seems to joke about everything. The 26-year-old Georgia native is one of the Army's few — or maybe the only — double amputee serving on the front lines.

Immediately after being hurt, his first thought - after being grateful to be alive - was that his Army career was over.

"In my mind I was like, all right that's it. You're done being a platoon leader. You're going back to the States. You're done with your Army time," Luckett says.

He had a different thought when he arrived back in Washington, D.C., for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"By the time that I hit wheels down at Andrews Air Force Base, I had already made up my mind I was going to try to make it back to the unit before they redeployed back to the States," Luckett says.

For eight months, Luckett learned how to walk again, and passed an Army fitness test.

But to get back to combat duty, Army rules required that Luckett pass an even more grueling set of physical tests, including a 12-mile march with a 35-pound pack.

Even for a guy who likes to joke, it was no laughing matter.

"I was very nervous… this was really in my mind where I was going to make or break it as far as being able to return to duty successfully. Because if you're an officer in the infantry you should be able to do these expert infantryman tasks because you require your guys to," he says.

Luckett earned his Expert Infantryman Badge. Instead of giving him the standard-issue badge, his battalion commander gave Luckett the tarnished badge the commander had earned years earlier as a young officer.

"And he pinned it on me and he said, 'You've done great things today, Dan, and one day I expect you when you're a lieutenant colonel, I expect you to give this to a lieutenant who's done great things.' And it meant a lot," Luckett says.

Capt. Dan Luckett wades through a creek while patrolling earlier this month in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. He lost his left leg and part of his right foot to a roadside bomb in Iraq two years ago. Photo: Spc. Joe Padula/U.S. Army.

So Luckett deployed with his old unit, the 101st Airborne, to Afghanistan, and found himself this summer at Combat Outpost Ashaque in Kandahar province.

The Afghan soldiers here quickly gave him a nickname: "The One-Legged Warlord of Ashaque."

In this part of Afghanistan, Luckett faces one of the toughest landscapes for an Army patrol.

To avoid roadside bombs, soldiers trudge through jungle-like grape vineyards and climb over mud walls in 115-degree heat.

One story he can tell is how Taliban fighters opened fire on his outpost a few days ago.

Luckett was sitting inside a concrete building at the time, talking on the radio. Windows were stacked high with sandbags and covered with plywood.

Suddenly, a single bullet punched through the wood and zipped over his head.

"They were gunning for me. They were gunning for the One-legged Warlord of Ashaque."

He picks up the spent round, takes it back to his room, and puts it near his collection of legs.

There's more to the story at the link, including how Luckett "stole" his first prosthetic leg from the physical therapy department at Walter Reed...


John C said...

I would like to shake that mans hand one day....

pontiff alex said...

I cannot properly express my awe at this man. We are FREE Men and Women at the SOLE behest of Brave Warriors like Captain Dan Luckett. PROFOUND RESPECT is an understatement. I can only hope he returns home after this tour and enjoys the rest of his life with his family.  I own, and have read twice, the autobiography of Donald Hamblen "One Tough Soldier". who fought to return to active and combat duty during the Vietnam War.  a synopsis is on Historynet.com  http://www.historynet.com/donald-hamblen-one-tough-marine-and-purple-heart-recipient.htm