2015 Warrior, Matthew Sullivan
My Military career started in 1996 when I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. After 4 years in the Coast Guard I decided not to re-enlist as my daughter had just been born a few months earlier. In 2008 I felt I needed to go back to active duty, and although I greatly enjoyed my time in the Coast Guard, I eventually elected to enlist in the United States Army. I had no idea at the time how much that decision would impact my life.
I started my basic training, infantry training and airborne training at Ft Benning, Georgia in October of 2008. Upon completion of airborne school I was sent to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where I was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne. On September 1st 2009, just a few weeks after joining my new unit, I was on a plane headed to the Middle East to start a one year deployment in Afghanistan.
Nearly a year later as our tour was coming to an end and we had already been relieved by another unit, myself and about 12 others from my platoon found ourselves having a hard time catching a ride out of our AO (area of operation) due to weather. After a few days and several cancelled helicopter flights the decision was made to walk to a nearby FOB (forward operating base) in order to catch a ride with a truck convoy back to Kandahar Air Field where the rest of our company was waiting for us. On August 24th, under the cover of darkness, our patrol set out for what we thought would be an uneventful night movement. About an hour into the patrol we encountered two IEDs that the enemy had recently placed. Unfortunately for me I am the one that found the second one. I remember a blast and being knocked to the ground. I could hear someone screaming and I assumed it was them that was hit. I rolled over and tried to stand up and my right leg just kept sliding out from under me. It wasn’t until I rolled over onto my back and held my leg up that I realized that my lower leg was missing. I was the one that was hit. The next few hours were probably the longest of my life. Kandahar would not send an air medivac to come and extract me due to the weather so I had to wait for a truck convoy to clear its way in to us and pick me up. There aren’t words to describe the relief I felt upon finally reaching the hospital.
It took a couple of weeks but I was finally cleared to travel back to the U.S. and was taken straight to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. After two weeks there I was transferred to Naval Medical Center San Diego so that I could be closer to my family while I finished up my surgeries and rehab. My last surgery was in November of 2010 and 1 month later I was already being fit with my first prosthetic. Being that I was limited with the types of physical activities I could participate in the physical therapists steered me towards swimming during my rehab. Swimming has unique rehab and therapy benefits that you can’t get from other types of exercise. Sometimes, it is the only type of exercise that is even possible to perform. In my youth I had swam competitively so even with my disability I picked it back up rather quickly. Just a few short months later I was competing in the 2011 Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, qualifying for the finals in the 50m freestyle. Unfortunately I just missed out on winning a medal, but the most important thing is that I was back to being active again and I found it through swimming.
While I can’t do everything that I was accustomed to doing before the injury, thanks to excellent doctors and physical therapists I have a good quality of life. 15 months, 7 surgeries and countless hours of rehab after being injured by an IED I was medically retired from the Army, and with the continued support from the VA and other wonderful organizations, such as APSP, I look forward to this next chapter of my life.