Liam Farrell / The (Annapolis) Capital & Associated Press – 2008-10-06 21:59:13
Md. Soldier Hurt in Iraq Has What Bomb Can’t Steal
Liam Farrell / The (Annapolis) Capital & Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (October 6, 2008) — It is easy to see what war has taken from Sgt. Luis Rosa-Valentin. Both of his legs and his left arm are gone. The 25-year-old soldier needs a hearing aid for his left ear, and a cochlear implant will soon be placed in his right. He has no sense of smell.
Luis’ right arm, his only remaining limb, is also a symbol of loss. A tattoo of a dead soldier’s empty boots, helmet and rifle adorns the inside of his forearm, set against the American flag. It stands as a reminder of his closest buddy in the Army, Staff Sgt. Steve Butcher, Jr., who was killed in Iraq.
But when Luis returned to the gym at Meade High School Sept. 20 for a charity event, it quickly became clear what the Baghdad bomb that took his limbs could never sever.
Just down the hall from the gym is Room A-111, a classroom of tile and white cinder block where Luis, a 2001 Meade graduate, and his wife America Rosa-Valentin met while participating in the JROTC program.
Civilian life never was an option for Luis, the son of a man who spent more than 20 years working in military intelligence and continues to work at the National Security Agency as a civilian. Luis would wear an Army jacket every day and make military doodles in his notebooks.
“I get to live the rest of my life knowing that I did what I loved and I gave everything,” he said in an interview at his home in Laurel in mid-September. “I would not back down. I believed in something and I went out and I made a difference.”
His first day of basic training was Sept. 11, 2001, and less than two years later he was at the “tip of the spear” as the military invaded Iraq, helping to secure the runway of what is now Baghdad International Airport.
He drove a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and had to get used to the long, and sometimes seemingly endless, days: 48 hours driving, four hours sleeping; 36 hours driving, four hours sleeping. The only real chance to rest was when the long, snaking convoy was refueling. He returned from Iraq in September 2003 and after being a recruiter for a while realized he wasn’t serving in the right place.
“I’ve seen loss and I’ve felt it,” he said. “I knew that my heart and my passion was in combat, and I could either sit at home nice and comfortable with the doubt in my heart or I could lay six feet under satisfied I did everything I could.”
This Thanksgiving, open the oven while the turkey is still cooking inside, and feel the heat blasting your face. That is Baghdad’s heat, Luis said.
Imagine passing a stand with four pillars and a sheet of tin for a roof, with someone slicing goats near a pile of skins four feet high, with trails of coagulated blood flowing into the street.
That is Baghdad’s smell, he said.
The bomb went off on April 21, 2008, two days before Luis turned 25.
Besides the damage to his limbs, the concussion of the bomb broke every bone in his face. After being taken to the base, he was pumped with 26 units of blood, about two times what is needed in the human body. When they ran out, anyone with O-positive blood was ordered to go to the clinic, and the new samples were taken and put in so fast that they were still warm when they flowed into the IV.
He went into a two-week coma, and had a constant 105-degree fever and infections. It wasn’t just the steel that presented a problem — the streets, filled with blood, urine, feces, and rotting food, turned the shrapnel that pierced his body into a petri dish.
Now, Luis is asked to speak to other patients at Walter Reed who are struggling, and he credits his friends and family for keeping him above the whirlpools of depression that can consume veterans.
His humor also is not gone; how could it be when he wears a shirt with a handicapped symbol that says: “I’m just in it for the parking”?
A self-professed “adrenaline junkie,” he went on a trip to Colorado just three months after his injury, even going to a shooting range, and is planning a skydiving trip. “I refuse to stop,” he said. “I refuse to let anything defeat me.”
• Information from: The (Annapolis, Md.) Capital, http://www.hometownannapolis.com/
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