The War’s Final Amputee
Staff Sgt. Brandon Dodson
Marine Staff Sgt. Brandon Dodson was supposed to turn in his ammo and, after five tours of duty in Afghanistan, pack his gear and leave forever.
Instead, on the last patrol he said he became the last man down — the war’s final amputee.
His last patrol was his fifth and final tour of duty in Afghanistan. The war is supposed to be ending, but the carnage hasn’t stopped. No one patrols there any longer, and personnel rarely venture outside the wire, Dodson said.
Dodson’s Alive Day — the day he was hit and didn’t die, was Aug. 9, just seven months ago. “If I tell it, it’s no less real but it’s less frightening,” he said. So he talks about it with just about anyone who asks, easily and openly. Besides his bravery, you’re struck by his lack bitterness. He was leading a foot patrol when he stepped on a pressure plate IED with five pounds of HME — a homemade explosive. Five pounds isn’t much at all, Dodson said. Some guys are hit by bombs packed with 40 or 50 pounds. Still, it was enough to blow his left leg 150 feet from the blast site. A fellow Marine from his unit found it and hustled it back to the med-evac helicopter before it flew Dodson to medical help. It crushed his hips and ripped open his groin. His insides poured out. A corpsman put them back as best he could before the helicopter took off. People in country call it the golden hour. If you get help in less than an hour after you’re hit, your survival chances increase exponentially. Dodson was at the medical center in 28 minutes. Five days later, Aug. 14, he was in Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
SOMETHING WAS WRONG
He’s been married four years now to Jasmine. They have a son. He and his wife are both from San Diego, and she was there visiting her family when he was hit. She knew he was on patrol and that she wouldn’t hear from him for a few days, so she set her phone to silent and left it at home. When she picked it up she saw she had two missed calls. “She instantly knew something was wrong,” Dodson said. She learned quickly that the messages were from Marine personnel whose duty is to notify families when a loved one is injured or killed.
What do you do after something like that? You pack a bag and come to Vail with the Vail Veterans Program to do a little skiing. When he was in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his physical therapists kept telling him, “If there’s one trip you want to do, you want to do Vail.” Vail is Dodson’s second trip. His first was to Miami, where he was introduced to hand cycles. They pointed their bikes south and rode from Miami to Key West. They’d have gone further, but there isn’t any further.
Monday his instructors strapped him into a monoski and put him on Golden Peak’s bunny hill. Two days later, he was hammering down black diamonds. He’s fine, mostly. He said he has some PTSD, but not much, and no traumatic brain injury. His brain is fine. His wife smiles and agrees. He has no hand trauma. “That’s huge,” he said. He’s still a Marine and still on active duty. He’ll decide whether he wants to stay on active duty. He’s been a Marine staff sergeant for six years and if there’s one thing he knows to be true, it’s that sergeants run everything. The Marines, he says smiling, might just need that sort of wisdom. Lisa Prasso is Dodson’s physical therapist at Walter Reed. “This program is amazing at getting these guys out of their shells,” Prasso said of the Vail Veterans Program. She laughed out loud as some of her wounded warriors slid down the fire pole at the West Vail Fire Station Thursday, when local firefighters served dinner the night before this group departed.
I’D KICK MYSELF IF I COULD
Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Kinard is a double amputee — both legs above the knee — who was injured 10 years ago in the Middle East. This week was his first trip to Vail. He said he had the opportunity to come sooner, and wishes he had. “I’d kick myself if I could,” he said as the room erupted in laughter. “It’s tough to be the quarterback and then watch the game from the sidelines,” he said. “I’m here, and I’m glad to say I’m back in the game.”
Lt. Col. Dave Rozelle helped start the Vail Veterans Program 12 years ago with Cheryl Jensen. Rozelle was hit in Iraq and returned to active duty. He’s a battalion commander in Seoul, South Korea. More than 1,000 veterans injured in the Middle East and their families have been through the program. They take confidence with them when they leave, Rozelle said. “They’ve been in a sterile hospital environment and when they’re here they’re completely independent,” he said. “That feeling is powerful, and they’ll take it with them.” Vail Mayor Andy Daly called the Vail Veterans Program one of the town’s most beloved traditions. “It’s a touching and humbling reality, and we want to thank you who have put your lives on the line to protect our freedom,” Daly said to Thursday gathering at the West Vail Fire Station. “Hopefully this program will add a dimension to your lives through a love for the outdoors for many years to come.”