Golf Digest: The Healing Game
On July 8, 2007, his 45th day in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ramon Padilla was ready for dinner. He was at a firebase in the Korengal Valley, the "valley of death" where Taliban warriors ruled ferociously. To make a radio call to the eight soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade under his command, Padilla climbed onto a pile of dirt and rocks.
There, his life changed.
He knew it when he saw his left arm floating away from his body. "All the skin was gone, blood was running out," he says, "and my arm was hanging by two ligaments, like strings."
Soldiers know they're targets, but they'd rather not think about it. "You gotta think, Ain't nothin' gonna happen. Otherwise, you go crazy," Padilla says. So here's what the career Army man says about the moment a rocket-propelled grenade exploded in front of him, shearing away his arm and throwing shrapnel against his skull.
"I thought, OK, it happened. Let's get on with it."
He believed his guys would save him. Two carried him to a safe house. A third stopped the bleeding. On a medevac helicopter, medics strapped the loose arm to the soldier's chest. Padilla looked at the arm. "They laid it across my chest, with the hand right under my chin, like, to calm me, for assurance," he says. "But I knew. The arm was gone." On the dead hand he saw his wedding ring.
From the deserts and mountains of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants run their war against the West. The United States has sent 1.5 million men and women to that war. More than 5,400 Americans have been killed, more than 67,000 wounded, and nearly 1,000 have lost limbs -- as Padilla did.
He made his way to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. There, a year later, his life changed again. Only this time he didn't know it. An RPG blowing him to pieces -- that, he could imagine.