On Thanksgiving Day 2004, Sgt. Andy Hatcher, USMC (Ret.) was serving the
2nd RECON Battalion, a premier unit for special operations, in Al Anbar
Province, Iraq. A convoy approached to pick the battalion up from their sniper
operation during the second invasion of Fallujah, a notoriously dangerous city
within the Sunni triangle, 40 miles west of Baghdad.
“I just remember looking into the sun,” Hatcher told
O&P Business News. “The next thing I know I am getting
pulled out of a truck in a dust cloud and people are taking my equipment off
me. I do not remember much after that.”
Hatcher’s vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, 3
months after his deployment to Iraq. His right foot was intact, but barely.
Doctors informed him that if he were to keep the foot, he would likely endure 2
years of reconstructive surgeries in order to regain 50% function. Doctors
would take skin, bone and muscle grafts from his hip and leg to reconstruct the
“They are not cutting me up anymore,” Hatcher thought to
himself as he lay in his hospital bed listening to doctors describe the
It is customary for doctors to leave the room so the patient can have a
private discussion with his or her family members. But the decision was made
right there on the hospital bed.
“I knew my answer before they walked out the door,” Hatcher
said. “As soon as they walked out the door I told my family I am not
staying here for 2 years so I can have a permanent limp.”
|Rather than enduring years of
additional surgeries, Sgt. Andy Hatcher, USMC (Ret.) chose to have his right
|Images: Challenged Athletes
On Dec. 15, 2004, Hatcher’s right foot was amputated.
“I knew what I signed up for, coming from a long line of
military,” he said. “It was an easy decision to make.”
Hatcher’s father, a Ranger, served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. His
uncles and grandfather served in the military as well. After graduating high
school, the Fayetteville, N.C.-native enlisted, fully aware of the risks in a
post-9/11 world. After his amputation, Hatcher rehabilitated at
Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC).
“I was one of the first amputees to come out of the war so a lot of
what we know about the war veteran culture did not exist,” he said.
“That was pretty new to the hospital.”
From what Hatcher gathered during his stay at WRAMC, the diverse group
of specialists and nurses were inspired by the young veterans dealing with
severe trauma in a positive way. As the number of veteran amputees increased at
WRAMC, Hatcher felt the hospital was more of a school for disabled veterans.
The environment was structured, regimented and always positive.
“You are in this environment where you interact with other amputees
and share your recovery with them,” he said. “Most of us were quite
young and competitive, coming from the military. You never felt odd or
different at Walter Reed. The psychological or emotional effects are almost
taken away because of that social environment.”
Show up on time and remain positive. Those were the only expectations
from doctors and nurses.
|Hatcher spent 3 days riding
mountain bikes with president George W. Bush and other servicemen and women
injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The only time they would really light a fire under you was if you
started getting down or depressed because in that type on environment,
depression is contagious,” Hatcher said. “One individual turning into
a slacker or staying on their meds for too long or just not doing anything
— that kind of stuff can catch on.”
Hatcher equated his experiences and positive mindset at Walter Reed with
the tone set by the
Challenged Athlete’s Foundation (CAF).
“The WRAMC experience was fresh and similar to CAF because of the
positive, loving vibe that you get from that organization,” he said.
“You try not to get into the victim mindset, but sometimes you just cannot
help it. At CAF, that victim mindset is non-existent. It is amazing going to
these clinics and seeing children as young as 4 years old full of smiles and
laughter. These kids are bilateral amputees and they are running around,
playing soccer. They try to remove that jaded aspect of the disabled
Hatcher was an active runner and swimmer before to his amputation.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is part of the job requirement for a RECON
marine who worked in special operations. Most of his friends in the military
were divers and Hatcher loved water sports as well.
During his rehabilitation at Walter Reed and only 5 months following his
amputation, Hatcher entered a bicycle ride from Washington D.C. to New York
City. Hatcher instantly fell in love with the sport. He knew he could run and
swim, but biking would prove to be a different challenge.
“Biking was hard and I was having pressure issues with my
prosthesis and the balancing of the bike,” he admitted. We are clipped
into the pedals so when I lose my balance, I am going down. But I practiced and
after entering a few triathlons, I became a successful cyclist.”
Hatcher is a member of CAF’s Operation Rebound triathlon team.
Operation Rebound is a sports and fitness program specifically designed for
military personnel, veterans, police officers firefighters and first
responders. It offers funding for equipment, training and travel expenses,
allowing veterans to pursue their athletic goals.
“If you need assistance getting back to an active, functioning
lifestyle, Operation Rebound will help you,” Hatcher said. “Whatever
goal you pick from marathons, triathlons or just to get out of bed in the
morning without falling over, Operation Rebound will help you reach that
Riding with the president
In late April, the 27-year-old Hatcher took part in the W100, a
100-kilometer mountain bike ride in the Big Bend region of west Texas. The
event was hosted by former President George W. Bush and featured 14 U.S.
servicemen and servicewomen who were wounded in the wars in Iraq and
Hatcher rode bikes with President Bush for 3 days. President Bush even
remembered serving Hatcher with the Purple Heart while he was recovering at
Walter Reed. By Hatcher’s count, he has met the former President during
various events and trips to the White House.
“I could not keep up with President Bush,” Hatcher admitted.
“But he took falls just like everyone else.”
Lance Armstrong rode along with them on the last day of the event and
ate dinner with them as well. Magician David Blaine entertained the veterans
with magic tricks every night at dinner.
“When I first got injured, none of these programs even
existed,” Hatcher said. “We have come a long way. Knowing that I am
part of something like this and paved the way for people for years to come is a
great experience. I will cherish it for the rest of my life.” — by Anthony Calabro