It was Mother’s Day 2005. Chad Brumpton was a tank commander with Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division. His M1 Abrams tank was nearly invincible; big, heavily armored and well-armed. It had been through improvised explosive device (IED) blasts before, and they’d barely scratched the paint.

The Mother’s Day blast was different. When Chad’s tank rolled over a powerful IED buried in the ground, the explosion ripped through the bottom of the tank, smashing Chad’s head into the hatch and tearing apart his legs.

Pulled from the flames

Sergeant Luke Miller and Chad’s driver, Lance Corporal Fernando Lazalde, pulled Chad from the wreckage while under enemy fire. Miller—who would later receive a bronze star with valor for his courageous actions—went back to the tank while still under fire to save the team’s gunner, who was also injured in the blast.

”My son is named after Luke for saving my life,” says Chad. ”I think he deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor, but I’m a little biased.”

All four men survived, and eventually Chad returned to his native Idaho to recover.

“My goal in recovery was to go back to the way everything was before,” Chad says.

Readjusting

He medically retired from the Marines and immediately started a job as a probation officer. Desperate to get back to normal life, he deliberately shortened what should have been an 18-month recovery to about seven months. The choice came with a price.

“All I wanted to do was be active again. Now my physical fitness is all about staying healthy and young, so I can keep up with my son.”

“It wasn’t a good quality of life,” Chad acknowledges. “My left foot didn’t really work; there was so much nerve damage. There was constant bone-on-bone contact. I had to take heavy narcotics just to get out of bed. It affected not just my health, but my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Accepting a new phase

It was a decision a year in the making, but in 2008, Chad decided to have his legs amputated below the knee. It would eventually allow him to live with less pain and without the prescription drugs that clouded his mind.

“I was ready to get off all the pain medication and start doing things the way I used to be able to,” Chad says. “Twelve weeks after surgery, I put on my first set of legs. It was euphoria going from a wheelchair to standing again.”

The last piece of Chad’s recovery was to gain control over his PTSD.

"The biggest thing about being involved with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) has been getting connected with others; seeing people who have been where I've been and been through some of the same things I've been through,” Chad says.

Leading at home

Mentoring other warriors has also helped Chad acclimate and take command of his ‘new normal.’

"WWP gave me the opportunity to get involved with the Peer Mentoring program, and now I mentor an Air Force veteran,” says Chad. The feeling of giving back to others, making sure they understand their VA benefits and the other resources they might be able to use, like WWP, is great. It always feels good to serve others. I served in the Marine Corps, I served in law enforcement and I continue to serve now."

His old life was effectively over, but instead of mourning the loss, he viewed it as a celebration. Chad explored what he could accomplish without pain in his legs. He tackled snowboarding first. Then, in 2010, he was fitted for a special set of running blades.

“All I wanted to do was be active again,” Chad explains. “Now my physical fitness is all about staying healthy and young, so I can keep up with my son.”