Face of Defense: Sergeant Faces New ‘Normal’ After Injury

By Samantha L. Quigley

American Forces Press Service  

Feb. 13, 2008 – “Normal” is a relative term, and for one former North Carolina Army National Guard sergeant, it’s distinctly different today from what it was in 2004.  On Nov. 15 of that year, Army Sgt. Andrew Butterworth was serving in Iraq. After patrolling in the northeastern part of the country, he and members of his unit were heading home.  “They were waiting for us,” he said. “(We) had an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade, hit our Bradley (fighting vehicle). It went right through the turret.”  

While the grenade caused some severe injuries, it could have been worse. Of the nine soldiers in the vehicle, Butterworth and his lieutenant were the only two seriously injured.  “I lost my right leg, and my lieutenant lost his left leg,” he said. “Nobody was killed, except (the insurgents).”  Both Butterworth and his lieutenant got to Walter Reed Army Medical Center shortly after their injuries occurred.

Their stays were short-lived, though.  “As far as I know, and unless somebody tells me different, I think we got out of there the fastest of all the amputees there,” he said. “They were telling my family that I’d probably be there for six to eight months to a year or more.”  But after only three and a half months, with the help of a cane, Butterworth walked out of Walter Reed on his good leg and a new prosthetic.

The amazing progress was the result of friendly competition between Butterworth, also known as “Butter,” and his lieutenant.  “It was who could do what first,” he said. “That really helped both of us out.”  On April 1, 2006, Butterworth was officially medically retired and began to embrace his new version of normal by attending a winter sports clinic in Aspen, Colo. During that trip he decided that life may be different, but he wouldn’t let his injury shape the future.  “I threw the cane away and started waling without it,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t start walking without it, I never would, so I just got rid of it.”  With that act, Butterworth began to make good on a promise he made.

When he first saw his family after the injury, he told them he wasn’t going to let it slow him down.  “I guess it’s just the way I was raised,” he said. “It was just something else for me to learn how to do.  “I just kind of took it in stride, no pun intended,” he chuckled.  Butterworth, who used to do electrical work for a living, now works as the Wounded Warrior Project’s benefits liaison for the southeast region of the country.

The job means a lot of time on the road and away from Bonzo, the orange tabby cat he said helps him keep his sanity, but he calls it his dream job.  The former soldier has a couple other dreams as well: a family and a college education.  He’s already learned some important lessons not taught in a classroom, including the fact that there are two types of amputees: “those that have fallen and those that are about to.”  And he’s taught a few along the way.  “(Wounded warriors) aren’t done. There’s nothing that they can’t do,” Butterworth said. “You just have to meet it head-on and take it for what it is and see it as a new challenge.”  

This shouldn’t be anything new for servicemembers, he said.  “We’ve always got hard things to do, physically and mentally, emotionally,” he said. “There’s no reason to complain. We all have our days.”  Some of those days leave him feeling like a 70-year-old man, he said. Some days that feeling wins out, and he can stay in bed. More often than not, though, he feels pretty good and enjoys some of his favorite activities, including hiking, camping, skiing and riding his motorcycle.  “People are like, ‘You still ride a motorcycle? You’re missing a leg,'” he said. “So what? Physically, I guess you would think I’m somewhat normal, besides the fact that I’m missing a leg.  “At some point you’re going to be just as ‘normal’ as anybody else,” he added.

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