May 8, 2005, Mothers Day – Al Qaim, Iraq – near the Syrian border – south of the “Golden Gate Bridge.”
It’s 4 a.m. on the first day of Operation Matador, also known as “The Battle of Al Qaim” where Staff Sergeant Chad Brumpton was tank commander of Company “C” 4th Tank Battalion. His platoon was attached to Company “A” 1st Tank Battalion. Staff Sergeant Chad Brumpton was the tank section leader for the reaction force of two tanks and four Humvees.
Their mission: Assist a team from Camp Raider in securing a 50-foot bridge on the Euphrates River, due to the team from Camp Raider getting stuck somewhere in route to the Golden Gate Bridge.
As soon as the team reached the city it was a fight to the bridge. Chad’s team was able to get to the “Golden Gate Bridge”, secure the bridge and waited for the team from Camp Raider to arrive – which ended up taking five hours. It was five hours of sporadic gun fire, mortar rounds impacting, and rockets whizzing by. After turning the bridge over to the Camp Raider team, Chad’s section started to move out.
“All of the sudden someone sets off an IED (improvised explosive device),” says Chad. “It punched a hole through the tank, right under my left foot.”
The blast thrust Chad’s head up into the hatch, knocking him unconscious.
“When I came to, the inside of the tank looked like a trash heap. I tried to communicate, but the bomb severed all power, busting up everything. The entire time we’re getting shot at – mortars and rockets – they just kept attacking.”
Chad had experienced IEDs before – most hardly scratched the paint on his tank. This one packed the equivalent to a 500-pound bomb.
“I lost a lot of blood, and my left leg was just barely hanging on. They medivaced me to Al Qaim for triage, and I was becoming delusional from the shock and blood loss. I started thinking I’m a POW, so I kept repeating my name, social security number, and blood type.”
Chad woke up two days later in pain on a flight to Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Yes, Chad was alive. But his injuries were severe.
“Both my legs from the knee down were shattered to little pieces. My left hand, thumb, and wrist were shredded up and broken. I received four compression fractures in my lower back.”
Over the next two years, Chad endured 19 surgeries – many were attempts to salvage his legs.
“I really wanted everything to go back to the way it was. That was part of my drive. But I had to take some pretty heavy narcotics just to be able to get out of bed and step on the floor. My left foot really didn’t work. There was so much nerve damage. And there was constant bone on bone contact.”
Finally, the pain was unbearable. So Chad made a decision and informed his doctor, who asked “Are you sure?” Chad’s answered with an emphatic “yes.”
“I became a bilateral below knee amputee on January 24, 2008. It took me a year to make that decision. I met with a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) psychologist during that time to help me deal with my fears. I wanted to know I could go back to my regular life even though part of my body was missing. I was determined to overcome any psychological repercussions.”
Chad says his initial prosthetic legs made him four inches taller and he felt like he was walking on stilts -- but at least he was walking.
“I won’t let anything hold me down, especially my disability. After the explosion, doctors told me I’d never walk again, but on the day I was discharged from the hospital, I walked out. There was no way I was going to let anything stop me.”
Now Chad not only walks, he runs.
“I’ve recently received a pair of running legs. It was the first time I was able to run in five years. I have been able to be more active with my amputation than I was when I was going through limb salvage. I’ll never quit. To the end I’ll fight or find a way to fix it.”