MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Army Captain Dan Luckett is assigned to one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan just north of Kandahar City where Taliban attacks are common. He goes on patrols, he lifts weights in his spare time, and he is second in command at Headquarters Company.
That may not sound unusual. But what is unusual is that Captain Luckett is a double amputee.
NPR's Tom Bowman has this profile.
Captain DAN LUCKETT (101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army): This one is combat-action ankle Luckett.
TOM BOWMAN: Captain Luckett is showing off his spare legs.
Capt. LUCKETT: Okay, this is my running leg here. It's real light and it gives you a lot of energy return.
BOWMAN: That's right. He has a half dozen spares. Some sit on his foot locker, others lean against his cot waiting to be picked.
Capt. LUCKETT: Then all these legs are held on through suction. So you have a little air valve in the bottom there. You can see the hole.
BOWMAN: He talks about each one like a carpenter brags about a new set of tools. One leg wears a sneaker, another has a plastic foot.
Capt. LUCKETT: Complete with toenails.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BOWMAN: Luckett jokes about everything. He's just 26, a Georgia native and one of the Army's few - maybe the only - double amputee serving on the frontlines.
Not only did Luckett lose his left leg below the knee, but the front half of his right foot is gone, too. For that he has a special sleeve, almost like a mitten, that slips over the stump and completes the foot.
It was on another battlefield in Iraq where Dan Luckett was seriously wounded.
Capt. LUCKETT: It's an easy date to remember, it's Mother's Day of 2008.
BOWMAN: He was returning from a patrol, sitting in the passenger seat of his Humvee, when a roadside bomb exploded and sliced through his door.
Capt. LUCKETT: Instantly felt kind of an intense pain in my feet. So when I looked down, I saw that they were gone, heard my radios and one of my squad leaders said: Hey, is everybody all right in 1-6 Vehicle. And I keep the mic and went: Negative, negative. My feet are gone.
BOWMAN: He was glad to be alive but then a thought suddenly gripped him.
Capt. LUCKETT: In my mind, I was like, all right, that's it. You're done being a platoon leader. You're going back to the States. You're done with your Army time.
BOWMAN: He had a different thought when he arrived back in Washington, D.C. for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Capt. LUCKETT: By the time that I hit wheels down at Andrews Air Force Base, I had already made it up in my mind: I was going to try and make it back to the unit before they redeployed back to the States.
BOWMAN: So Luckett began his physical therapy with determination and a craftiness of pickpocket.
Capt. LUCKETT: And I got my first leg on the third of July. I actually stole it.
BOWMAN: He wouldn't give it up.
Capt. LUCKETT: Once I was able to stand again and walk with the crutches, it was like okay, I'm not going back to the freaking wheelchair anymore.
BOWMAN: He was supposed to give the leg back to the therapist. But when his chance came, Luckett took off with his mother Melanie in tow.
Capt. LUCKETT: Come on, Mom, we're out of here. And she was like, what are you talking about? You have to give the leg back. And I was like (bleep) they can't take my leg from me and then started crutching out of there. And they went running after me and argument ensued. And then finally they were like, all right, fine. If you're going to be that stubborn with it, take it.
BOWMAN: He was that stubborn. For eight months, Luckett learned how to walk again and passed an Army fitness test. But to get back to combat duty, Army rules require that Luckett pass an even more grueling set of physical tests, including a 12-mile march with a 35 pound pack. There's no joking about that.
Capt. LUCKETT: I was very nervous. This was really, in my mind, where I was going to make or break it as far as being able to return to duty successfully. Because if you're an officer in the infantry, you should be able to do these expert infantry tasks because you require your guys to.
BOWMAN: Luckett earned his Expert Infantryman's badge. Instead of giving him the standard issue badge, his battalion commander gave Luckett the tarnished badge he had earned years earlier as a young officer.
Capt. LUCKETT: And he pinned it on me and he said: You done great things today, Dan. And one day, when you're a lieutenant colonel, I expect you to give this to a lieutenant who's done great things. And it meant a lot.
BOWMAN: So Luckett deployed with his old unit, the 101st Airborne to Afghanistan, and found himself at Combat Outpost Ashaque. The Afghan soldiers here quickly gave him a nickname, The One-Legged Warlord of Ashaque. And what Luckett faces here is one of the toughest landscapes for an Army patrol. To avoid roadside bombs, soldiers trudge through jungle-like grape orchards and climb over mud walls in 115 degree heat.
Captain JASON MCKAY (101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army): He's done a decent amount of patrols with us.
BOWMAN: Captain Jason McKay was out in those grape orchards, taking a break and talking about Luckett.
Capt. MCKAY: He's an amazing person. He gets over better than some people with two legs, so...
BOWMAN: Specialist Daniel Riggs says it's easy to forget that Luckett was seriously wounded.
Specialist DANIEL RIGGS (101st Airborne, U.S. Army): You never notice it about him, though, the leg, because he's always - I think he's in the gym right now. And he's just, you know, in there sucking, you know, pushing himself really hard. And he's not like a broken down guy.
BOWMAN: Many young soldiers, Luckett says, are more interested in his life outside the war zone.
Capt. LUCKETT: Yeah. It's stuff like, you know, how does it work when you're picking up chicks? If you're at the bar, do you tell them about it?
BOWMAN: One story he can tell is how Taliban fighters opened fire on his outpost a few days ago. Luckett was sitting inside a concrete building at the time, talking on the radio. Windows were stacked high with sandbags and covered with plywood. Suddenly, a single bullet punched through the wood and zipped over his head.
Capt. LUCKETT: They were gunning for me. They were gunning for The One-Legged Warlord of Ashaque.
BOWMAN: He picks up the spent round, takes it back to his room and puts it near his collection of legs.
Tom Bowman, NPR News.
SIEGEL: Tom and Diana Douglas who produced our Kandahar stories are now back from Afghanistan. You can hear their final report tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.