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Face of Defense: Wounded Soldier Refuses to Quit

By Charmain Z. Brackett
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT GORDON, Ga., Oct. 8, 2009 – A sudden accident may have cost Army Staff Sgt. Luis Elias his hand, but it hasn't stripped him of his positive attitude or impacted his plans for the future.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Luis Elias performs a push-up. The soldier is receiving treatment at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit in Augusta, Ga. U.S. Army photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Hopefully, in about a month or so, I'll be back to being a drill sergeant," said Elias, who is receiving treatment at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit in Augusta, Ga.

On June 30, Elias was training new soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga., when a grenade simulator exploded in his right hand leaving just his thumb. Surgeons at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Ga., amputated his hand.

Since then, Elias has been in physical therapy learning to use a prosthetic hand and preparing for his return to active duty. A state-of-the-art bionic hand called an “i-Limb” is on its way, and once Elias has learned to use it, he will be back to training soldiers.

He's hoping to go back to duty in November, but his physicians have not given him a specific date.

"It all comes down to the Soldier’s Creed: ‘I will never quit.’ I take those words to heart," said Elias, who credits his wife, Claudia, and 4-year-old son, Noah, with providing him strength and support.

Keeping in top physical shape is an important part of his quest to return to duty. Elias can do push-ups with one prosthetic device.

He also competed in the running portion of the ESi Ironman 70.3 triathlon on Sept. 27 in Augusta, finishing his 13.1 miles in two hours and five minutes. He didn’t compete in the swim or the bicycle portion of the race, but only because he didn’t have a recreational prosthetic, he said.

Elias joined the Army about six years ago, soon after high school graduation. He grew up in bad neighborhood in Miami and saw the Army as a way to provide a better life for himself.

Elias has served two tours in Iraq and submitted his drill sergeant packet after returning from his second tour. The incident occurred just a few months into the job.

"It's nice to see the product from beginning to end. It's one of the joys of being a drill sergeant -- seeing the transition from civilian to soldier," he said.

When he returns to duty, he believes he can be an inspiration to his batch of new recruits.

"These soldiers will end up going to Iraq," he said.

And maybe downrange they will remember their drill sergeant with a prosthetic arm and a never-quit attitude, he said.

(Charmain Z. Brackett works in the Fort Gordon, Ga., public affairs office.)

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