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Dori reflects on Afghanistan veteran who lost leg, returned to combat

Afghanistan veteran Ryan Hendrickson, on Dori's right, speaks to the Seahawks Pregame Show team before raising the 12 flag at Sunday's game. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks)

One of the great joys of my life is doing the Seahawks Pre- and Postgame Show. I love being connected to the team. But some of the people I have gotten to meet, who are the 12 flag raisers, are the people who make the most lasting impacts on me. On Sunday, Salute to Service Day, that person was Army Special Forces Engineer Ryan Hendrickson, who lost his leg in Afghanistan.

The training you have to go through to be a Green Beret is intense. It is designed to root out the weak. As Hendrickson told me, if you make any mistake in a two-year period, you can be cut — even if it’s during the final hurdle, known as the Robin Sage training exercise.

Hendrickson grew up in a small town in Oregon and originally wanted to play football professionally, but was told by his coach that he wasn’t suited to it. Switching gears, he decided to serve his country after high school. On every mission, he and his fellow soldiers proudly displayed a Seahawks flag.

On one fateful day of his deployment to Afghanistan, however, his life changed forever. While on a mission against Taliban fighters in the Helmand province, he stepped on an I.E.D.

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It blew his leg off. He could see his boot with the bones of his leg inside of it lying away from his body.

Because the Taliban were preparing an ambush for the Special Forces nearby, the medical helicopter could not land right there. Hendrickson’s compatriots had to carry him all the way to the landing site.

“Our medic on the team took a branch and ACE-wrapped my lower leg and upper leg together, and a couple different guys took turns carrying me out to where the helicopters would land,” he explained to me.

Incredibly, a surgeon in Houston was able to re-attach his lower leg.

“My skin grafts took the first time, the bottom of my foot that’s all a skin graft, that took the first time,” he said. “I was able to grow back 2 to 3 inches of tibia, of bone. It’s unbelievable.”

Then, it gets even more unbelievable. He re-enlisted.

This is a man who had his leg blown off and re-attached. He re-deployed. He went back to Afghanistan.

“One thing I grew up with, basically that I learned from my dad, was that you can’t live your life with, ‘I wish I would’ve,’ or ‘What ifs,'” he said. “First of all, I knew that the Taliban was not going to beat me. I was not going to let the Taliban beat me. So I had to come back … I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t beat, I wasn’t defeated. This injury was not me.”

He told me that this chapter of his life was not finished. He was determined to write the ending.

“Instead of using my injury to be a victim, I use my injury to make me a stronger human being,” he stated.

He had me in tears at the end of that interview. I am so in awe of someone like that, with that kind of spirit. This is someone who wanted to fight for our country, who gave nearly the ultimate sacrifice. And then he went back because he was not going to let the Taliban beat him.

I told him he was an American hero. He replied, “No. I work with a lot of American heroes.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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