Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Brant Ireland was on his sixth combat deployment in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan when he was travelling to a mission aboard a Chinook helicopter. It was two o'clock in the morning and the propellors from the helicopter were kicking up dust and causing brown out conditions. Loaded for a long mission, Ireland was carrying a heavy rucksack when he exited the aircraft. He walked out and then his life would change forever.
"We were doing a big night operation and we were not doing anything out of the ordinary flying in on Chinooks. It was dark, two o'clock in the morning, brown out conditions and I went 20 or 30 meters and fell into a drop off, with a 150-pound pack on my back and all that weight broke my left leg. I tried to get back up, but I could not walk. The leg dislocated backward. It folded underneath me," Ireland said.
The fall forced his femur to shatter the tibia plateau into 3 dozen pieces. One of the Chinooks came back and with the help of his teammates they put him back on the bird. They flew him back to the medical facility and took an X-ray at that point, the doctors informed him that his leg was badly broken.
"I was in disbelief at first. I did not want to go home," said Ireland.
Ireland was transported to Landstuhl, Germany where he received more extensive care and where he was met by a USSOCOM Warrior Care Program representative who began to guide him and his family through the rehabilitation process. He was told, with this kind of fracture, they could put it back together, but with the nerve damage his leg would not be normal again. Not giving up, he endured two years of multiple surgeries.
"I grew up an athlete and I had been a Green Beret for a while so I thought I would tough it out and get better. So, I endured several surgeries at the University of North Carolina," Ireland said. "They set me up a full leg Ideo brace and I was able to deploy back to Afghanistan with the team as a support person. I was happy I got to deploy with my team one more time. Made it there and back with my team. That was something I needed for my mental well-being."
Unfortunately, during that deployment his leg just started bowing badly so he went down to San Antonio to the Center of the Intrepid where he talked to the surgeon there and he decided to opt for amputation.
"It was almost two years to the day from injury to amputation," Ireland said.
While recovering, Ireland was watching the Invictus Games, the international military adaptive sports program, on television and immediately became interested in competing.
"I saw the 2016 Invictus Games on TV and I thought that might be something I would want to be involved with. So, the USSOCOM Warrior Care Program introduced me to the DoD Warrior Games and allowed me to try different sports," Ireland said.
Always an athlete, the games reinvigorated Ireland and gave him a new purpose.
"While the SOCOM Warrior Care Program did an amazing job introducing me to Adaptive Sports, the Warrior Games provided that competitive goal to strive for every day at training. It is like a culmination exercise where you can highlight the blood, sweat, and tears you put in through the rehabilitation process," Ireland said. "It is also an amazing opportunity to show our families how much we appreciate them supporting us and sticking with us, even through some of the most challenging times."
"Yes, it is incredibly competitive and there are individuals competing their hearts out, but the environment of the DoD Warrior Games is such that everyone is rooting for everyone, and there is so much mutual respect for the battles all the competitors have fought to overcome. Everyone, military and civilian, should witness a Warrior Games at least once in their lives," he concluded.
Ireland is also grateful for how the USSOCOM Warrior Care Program helped him, and his family navigate his recovery.
"The USSOCOM Warrior Care Program has been with me through every step of the way of my injury recovery. It is hard to put into words how much they have supported me, my family, and my career. Administratively, medically, and personally, they advocated for me throughout this entire process, and will continue to," Ireland said. "The Military Adaptive Sports Team specifically has played a huge role in my physical and emotional rehabilitation. They opened my eyes to the whole new world of adaptive sports and the benefits that come along with them."
Ireland is competing in track, field, swimming, cycling, rowing, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, and seated volleyball. The DoD Warrior Games is being held in Orlando, Florida Aug. 19 – 28.