MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now, we're going to meet a U.S. Army sergeant who was wounded in southern Afghanistan in a major firefight with the Taliban on May 3 of last year. Sergeant Tim Brumley lost his left foot and part of his leg. It's amputated nine inches below the knee. After he came home, he got a new tattoo on his forearm. In vivid colors, that tattoo tells the story of what happened when he was shot by a Taliban fighter.
Sergeant TIM BRUMLEY (U.S. Army): This, the dude on fire, kind of looking like he's in pain on his face, looks like he's getting pulled down to hell, because that's where all them bad guys go. And that's just my therapy tattoo, just to remind me that, you know, I'm still here. Because, I mean I've had had some points where I wasn't too happy. You know? And this is to remind me that I'm still alive, you know? And he's not. So I guess that's just kind of the best way to look at it.
BLOCK: That's a pretty graphic thing to look at every day.
Sergeant BRUMLEY: Yeah, but it's real pretty with all the colors.
BLOCK: I visited with Sergeant Brumley and his wife, Teresa, at their home in San Antonio as their infant son Colton played nearby. Tim Brumley does rehab three times a week at Brook Army Medical Center. Lately he's been running on a track. He wears a memorial bracelet with the names of two soldiers from his company who were killed in Iraq.
The Brumleys' son's middle name is that of another good friend who was killed in Afghanistan. Tim and Teresa Brumley are both 26. He was a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He served a ten-month tour in Iraq, then he was deployed to Afghanistan. He'd only been there four weeks before he was injured. At the time, Teresa was four months pregnant.
Sergeant BRUMLEY: As far as everybody knew, it was pretty quiet, you know. I mean, it was really, really boring. We really didn't see a lot, but when we did see stuff, it was a pretty big deal. We actually captured and killed a lot of Taliban.
BLOCK: So there'd be long dull periods and then big events.
Sergeant BRUMLEY: There was a lot more Taliban than we thought. We were coming over there, so we all thought going over there, like, it'd just be, you know, going over there and winning the hearts and minds of the women and children. You know, digging wells, setting up schools and such and pretty much playing peacekeeper. We didn't know that we'd get into hours - even days - long engagements of pretty heavy combat.
BLOCK: Teresa, when Tim was sent to Afghanistan, what were you expecting?
Ms. TERESA BRUMLEY (Wife Sergeant Brumley, U.S. Army): To be honest, when he went to Afghanistan, I wasn't really worried about him. Like, when he went to Iraq, it was the most stressful time. You panic just about every single day. And then, you know, they said they were going to Afghanistan. And before they go, they have a lot of FRG meetings, Family Residence Group, you know, meetings where they, you know, try to keep the wives informed and things like that.
And then they said pretty much, don't worry about it. Either they're going to be okay and it's just a bunch of patrolling, peacekeeping, whatever. And so your mind is really at ease. And then when he called and he was hurt, that's when you realize, hey, it's not as easy as they made it seem like it was, but by then it's already, what's done is done and he's coming home - two pieces, but at least he's coming home.
BLOCK: Did you feel like you were misled in some sense about the dangers?
Mrs. BRUMLEY: Not really misled. I guess I was kind of being naïve. They are in a war, so for us to completely have our guard down and think, oh, nothing's going to happen to them, we're being naïve.
BLOCK: Tim, tell me what happened with your foot.
Sergeant BRUMLEY: We were just, we were chasing some bad guys down, and there was a hole in the wall, like a doorway in a wall. We were down in a creek bed. And we got the jump on one guy, and then we knew there was another one down there, and I was on point, and my squad leader saw the guy get up and run.
Just a guy running, and I didn't see him until he ran to the hole in the wall. And then we went chasing him, and the guy ran through the wall and he stopped and turned around, and when I came through I hit a booby trap. It was just C-4. So it blasted the guy behind me back and it blasted me to the side, but I also got shot at the same time, so like the blister to the bullets, it just kind of tore everything out of my foot.
When I think about it, it's very, very vivid. You know, I can just still remember how bad it hurt and just the feelings of it, you know?
BLOCK: It sounds like you very close to seeing the guy who was shooting at you, too.
Sergeant BRUMLEY: Yes. I was probably 8 to 10 feet away. I saw the muzzle flash of it, so. Another day's work, you know? It just went bad.
BLOCK: The injury was from both the explosives and the gunshot?
Sergeant BRUMLEY: Yes. It was kind of a freak thing. I got hit by both of them at the same time. And when I got knocked down, I got my weapon blown out of my hands. And I'm just lying there thinking about my wife and my unborn kid and that I'm going to die. And I looked back - my squad leader came through and wasted the guy that was right there.
Then I crawled back through the door and then my saw gunner and one of TOs stopped the bleeding and everything within a couple of minutes, and I got MedEvaced, taken to Kandahar.
BLOCK: Teresa, when you realized how bad the injury was, what was going through your mind?
Mrs. BRUMLEY: I'm sorry I threw away all the pairs of socks that didn't have matches. Because there were about 21 random socks, and I was like, well, what a waste, you know? But -
BLOCK: I don't think that was your first thought.
Sergeant BRUMLEY: We both handled it with a lot of humor.
Mrs. BRUMLEY: Yeah. I mean, what can you do? You know, so that was pretty far up on my list, but the other thing was I need to go see him. I wanted to be with him.
BLOCK: You know, so much attention is focused on the troops in Iraq. Do you feel sometimes that people have just forgotten Afghanistan and -
(Soundbite of baby crying)
Sergeant BRUMLEY: There's so much more going on in Iraq, you know? I mean, Iraq, it's become a vacuum for anybody that wants to kill Americans for no apparent reason. Afghanistan, I think, is a lot easier to deal with than Iraq, one, because it's - I mean, it's harder because it's so spread out, but two, it's - the Afghani people, they want their country back. They want to run their country.
They don't want us there holding their hands. I think their history's more of them kind of taking care of themselves, like when they fought the Russians. Granted, we helped them, but they fought it and, you know, they laid the smack down. And they want to be known for that. I mean, they've been fighting for thousands and thousand of years and they're not going to stop now just because some, you know, punk terrorists show up and try to change their way of life.
BLOCK: Do you figure, I mean when you look forward to what's going on there, do you figure that U.S. troops are going to be there for a long time?
Sergeant BRUMLEY: No.
BLOCK: You don't think so?
Sergeant BRUMLEY: I don't think so. I think Afghanistan, we'll be out in the next five years or so. Iraq, I don't know, so I couldn't say. But as long as we need to be there, we'll be there.
BLOCK: Tim Brumley will soon be medically retired from the Army. He's about to start taking classes at a community college in San Antonio. He hopes to become a teacher and an athletic coach. And next month, he and eight other war amputees will be going to California for a surfing clinic and competition. He's never surfed before, but says he's always wanted to learn. In fact, he told the prosthetist at the hospital to make sure to give him a foot he could surf with. I don't want to miss a minute, he tells me. I lie awake in bed like a little kid on Christmas Eve just thinking about it.