U.S. ARMY INSTITUTE OF SURGICAL RESEARCH
"Optimizing Combat Casualty Care"
Tech Sgt. Leonard Anderson and Azza reunite at the San Antonio International Airport January 15.

Tech Sgt. Leonard Anderson and Azza reunite at the San Antonio International Airport January 15.

Injured dog trainer adopts teammate Photo by Steven Galvan

USAISR Hosts Best Warrior Competition

By Steven Galvan, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
02 FEB 2013


Before Azza, a trained bomb detection dog, could warn her handler, Tech Sgt. Leonard Anderson, that they had walked up to some explosives, the improvised explosive device (IED) was remotely detonated. Anderson was hurled through the air landing several feet from the explosion with massive wounds to his legs, abdomen, arms, and hands and requiring a helicopter medical evacuation (medevac) to save his life. That was the first time that the inseparable bomb detection team was separated from each other in months.

Five-and-a-half months after the explosion that separated Anderson and Azza, they are back together—this time for good. On January 15, Anderson met Azza, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois at the San Antonio International Airport to take her home.

“She is going to have run of the house,” he said. “She’s going to do everything and go everywhere with me. To my appointments, on boat trips, everywhere.”

Tech Sgt. Ryan Goodrich, Anderson’s co-worker and good friend flew, with Azza from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska where they are members of the 354th Security Forces Squadron known as the “Arctic Warriors.” Anderson submitted the necessary paperwork to adopt Azza the minute that he found out that she had been deemed ready for retirement by the squadron commander.

“Working dogs are usually always adopted by their trainers,” he said.

Once Azza had been cleared to join Anderson, he purchased plane tickets for Goodrich and Azza to fly from Alaska to Texas.

“It’s worth every penny,” Anderson said. “Azza is with me where she belongs and we’re both very happy.”

ROAD TO RECOVERY

These days, Anderson spends a lot of time at the Rehabilitation Center of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center located at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he has been a patient since early August 2012. Despite efforts to keep his hands intact, he lost two fingers and the thumb to each hand.

“You don’t realize that everything you do is with your hands until you can’t use them,” he said.

Anderson’s physical therapy sessions are designed to strengthen the limited grip that he has on each hand. Soon he will start agility routines to build up his legs that he almost lost. His goal is to get back to the way he was before the explosion.

“I would like to stay active duty and finish my time,” he said. “But first and foremost, I want to be able to take care of my family.”

Anderson and his wife have two children, both under 3 years old. His hands limit how much he can assist his wife with changing diapers and their overall care. “I want to be able to change the kids’ diapers and help with the kids as much as I can. It’s all about being able to take care of my family.”

Taking care of his family, staying on active duty, getting back to the gym, and playing softball is what motivates Anderson to get his life back as close to the way it used to be.

“I’m getting there,” he said. “Every little milestone is a big achievement.”

Anderson is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He has opted to have his left hand amputated so that he can be fitted with a prosthetic and able to hold on to things.

“That’s the only way that I’ll be able to grip a bat,” he said. “If you can’t grip a bat, then you can’t play softball.”

When asked why he wants to stay active duty, Anderson said, “I love being in the military. I knew the dangers before I joined. I knew this could happen to me. It happened, and now I’m dealing with it.”

DAY OF THE EXPLOSION

Anderson said that he does not remember that day at all. He doesn’t remember waking up, getting ready for the day, going out on the mission—nothing. One thing for sure, Anderson and Azza were on an explosive-finding reconnaissance foot patrol mission that was captured on film. A crew from the television channel Animal Planet joined the team that morning to videotape the mission for a documentary due to air in February.

When the IED was detonated, Craig Constant, a former Marine and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, was recording the foot patrol. Constant’s initial reaction was to pick up the video camera and continue filming the aftermath of the blast. When he realized that Anderson had landed near him and the extent of his injuries, his military training kicked in and he applied tourniquets to the groin area of his legs.

“He saved my life,” said Anderson. “I could have bled to death because my legs were mangled and I was bleeding really bad.”

Anderson and Constant, who lives in Dallas, now have a life-long relationship. “We are good friends and we talk on the phone all the time.”

Azza and Anderson have a strong bond as well. While Constant was placing the tourniquets on his legs, Azza laid down next to him until he was medevaced. The inseparable team wouldn’t see each other for 3 months when Anderson was discharged from the Burn Center and was able to fly to Alaska.

“It was horrible for me to come back without her,” he said. “I wanted to bring her back with me, but I always knew that someday I’d bring her home for good because we belong together.”