Thursday, July 4, 2013

Walking Wounded

I met Andrew and Tori Smith last Fall while on assignment at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Over the course of that day I saw firsthand deep unbreakable bonds of true love and dedication to country. Andrew was slowly building up his strength after spending months in a hospital bed undergoing reconstructive surgeries on his stomach, abs, and legs. Five months prior he had stepped on a pressure plate improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, losing both legs and shredding his abdomen. His wife Tori was by his side immediately upon his return to the United States, and has been there ever since. Theirs is a story of faith, love, and determination, and I was privileged to tell it. 

To be present in the gym at Walter Reed where America's wounded warriors learn to walk again was both familiar and foreign all at once. There is a tinge of loss and sacrifice that reminded me distinctly of Arlington Cemetery's hallowed gardens of stone. Yet simultaneously the air at Walter Reed is thick with defiance; defiance so thick you can choke on it. This defiance emanates thick from America's young warriors who cheated death. Many of these wounded warriors would return to foreign battlefields with bionic limbs to stare death in the face once again. Nowhere else is a violent loss of limb beneath-the-knee considered a "paper cut." Indeed, full recovery from such injuries can be achieved quicker than the average ACL tear. 

Tori Smith pushes her husband, Spc. Andrew Smith, through a parking garage at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. after his morning physical therapy session on Monday, October 22, 2012. Smith was severely wounded in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Afghanistan on March 8, 2012 during his first deployment with the 82nd Airborne Division. Luke Sharrett for World Magazine.

         Spc. Andrew Smith - wounded warrior
Andrew and Tori live on the campus of Walter Reed alongside other military amputees who are also recovering from wounds sustained on the battlefield.

Breakfast at the Warrior Cafe.

Andrew and Tori make their way to morning PT.

Tori dropped out of law school at Michigan State and moved to Walter Reed to be at her husband's side during his long road to recovery.

After months of surgeries rebuilding his legs and abdominal muscles, doctors finally cleared Smith to begin physical training.

A fellow wounded warrior who lost both legs above the knee.

Andrew rests after taking his first unassisted steps on March 8, 2012.

Thanks for looking!

**Photos copyright Luke Sharrett**

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