Learning to walk again after Afghanistan
San Antonio, Texas
By Jim Urquhart
With each step he learns to take he is that much closer to achieving independence. All he wants is to once again be able to be a soldier in the infantry.
Sergeant (Sgt.) Matt Krumwiede has endured about 40 surgeries since June 12th, 2012, when he stepped on a IED while on patrol in Afghanistan.
During that time he has fought hard to regain his mobility since the pressure plate unleashed about 15 pounds of explosives that tore away both his legs above the knees, ripped muscle and bone from his left arm, taking parts of a finger and a whole finger and ripped his abdominal cavity wide open.
But, despite his injuries he wants to rejoin his fellow soldiers.
For the last year and half Matt has called Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, home. Everyday he gets himself ready and makes his way to formation with many other injured soldiers. From there he attends doctors appointments, physical therapy and occupational therapy. He is learning to walk again with the use of prosthetic legs while also waiting for his abdominal injuries to heal.
Matt grew up in Pocatello, Idaho with a twin brother named Mark. The two played lacrosse together in high school and when it came time to graduate and other students went to college or began working, Matt enlisted in the army and was soon followed by this brother.
“It’s all I wanted to do since I was four years old and can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said from a hospital bed where he was battling an infection in his injured arm.
I have now spent several days with Matt and at the end of each day I have been mentally exhausted. For me, a man with two functioning legs and having never seen combat, it is hard to fathom the strength a man like Matt must possess to tackle his new challenges everyday. He is now only 22 years old and has a whole new set of challenges to overcome.
He very rarely asks for help and only does so when really needed. He works himself to complete and utter exhaustion in his pursuit of gaining strength, balance and endurance. And through the pain and sweat he smiles as if asking for more challenges to tackle. At times his confidence is shaken but he finds the strength from within to soldier on.
Matt has been lucky to have the support of his mom Pam Krumwiede, a ski instructor who has temporarily relocated to the humidity and flat lands of Texas to be at his side as he recovers.
The two work together to take on new challenges while she monitors his progress.
I’ve been fortunate to have been invited along on his journey and been welcomed into his friendship. Matt has a long road ahead of him but he somehow pulls strength from somewhere I have never known to keep optimistic and battling on. He wants to get back on his longboard and snowboard soon. We’ve discussed that once the bindings are figured out he may have a distinct advantage to other riders now that he has a lower center of gravity. He even jokes that next year he may get dressed up as Yoda for Halloween.
“…to walk as good as everyone else and get strong enough to continue my job,” he says of his goals and motivation. In an ideal world he would like to return to combat in the infantry but he is also aware of his new limitations. Once he is able to return to work he knows he may have to find another job within the army but that still doesn’t deter him from rejoining what he describes as a brotherhood.
“It’s a whole other family,” he says of the men he lived in tight quarters with and traveled across the world. He tells me the bond with his fellow soldiers is unbreakable. “Taking contact together and shooting back at the enemy together cements it all in place.”
I’ve watched him struggle to take steps on new, foreign legs and navigate terrain like grass and gravel. It takes tons of energy to stay balanced on what is basically two sticks and move your body through something like grass. I’ve always taken that simple act for granted. A friend of his, Jesse McCart who also lost his legs in Afghanistan, described walking over gravel as “trying to balance on ball bearings.”
However, his eyes brighten up when the chance to snowboard in the mountains or go hunting becomes available. But through this and knowing a lifetime of challenges lay ahead of him all Matt wants to do is rejoin the brotherhood.
I am proud to know Matt Krumwiede and take even more pride when he describes me as a friend. I look forward to continuing to tell his story. Matt and myself don’t know where it will lead but it’s an honor be able to share it.