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SEATTLE While conducting a dismounted patrol June 12 in Maiwand, Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device detonated near the men of 1st Platoon, B Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. Following the explosion, Spc. Chris Andersons life would forever be changed.
Anderson lost his left leg above the knee, while suffering substantial damage to his right. Another Soldier suffered a lower extremity amputation in the blast.
In the days, weeks and months following the incident, Anderson said all he could think about was whether his comrades would make it unscathed through the remainder of the nine-month deployment. He kept in touch through Facebook as he underwent nearly 50 surgeries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
On Jan. 11, Andersons dream to be reunited with his platoon came true. With his doctors approval, Anderson and his wife, Spc. Jasmine Anderson, also in the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, planned to surprise the Soldiers of B Co. The couple purchased tickets Jan. 9, but while Anderson was planning the reunion, Jasmine had a surprise of her own.
She contacted retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Anne Sprute, founder and president of The Unfinished Mission, a nonprofit organization whose website claims to offer the tools and gateway for veterans to continue their personal and continued mission. Jasmine wanted her husband to be greeted at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport by the men he had to leave behind.
With only two days to plan the surprise, Sprute went to work. What awaited Anderson at the airport was more than Jasmine could have ever hoped for, she said.
Slowly, meticulously stepping out of gate C-11 with a prosthetic on one leg and a spatial frame supporting the other, Anderson was greeted by thunderous applause from airline and USO staff members, Port of Tacoma Police officers, TSA representatives and nearly 100 strangers, most with tears in their eyes.
But there was more in store for the young Pittsburgh infantryman.
After exiting the concourse, nearly 20 USO volunteers held a large welcome home banner. Again, he was welcomed with cheers. After posing for photos, Anderson thought after luggage and rental car pick-up, he and his wife would be headed to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he would be able to finally surprise his men.
The SeaTac USO Center Manager, Bill Baker, told Anderson he had saved the couple the trouble of waiting in line that his rental keys and paperwork were upstairs. Following Baker, Anderson made his way to a second-level auditorium and opened the door to find a surprise of his own nearly 40 men from his company.
There was never an option to say no, we cant do it, Baker said of the request to support the event. Having the Soldiers wait for him is the final salute to his service ... a sense of closure, if you will. Anderson stood in front of the men in disbelief. At one point, he had to turn away and hide his face, the emotion almost too much to handle, he said.
Words cannot describe the feeling of being able to have his friends surprise him, Jasmine said. I saw his lip start to tremble, like he was going to cry, but he held it together ... this is all hes been talking about. This is what hes been waiting for.
Soldier after Soldier approached Anderson and embraced him. Smiles, laughs and tears spread through the company.
Its a relief... Im so thankful you guys are back here, Anderson said to his buddies. I wanted to surprise you, but I guess you got me.
Anderson spent time talking, joking and telling stories of his outpatient rehabilitation. He explained his prosthetic, and even passed it around to have it signed.
I knew he was coming in, and made sure I gathered as many of us as I could, said Spc. Shane Ryan, a lead M-240 gunner with 4-23 Inf. Anderson was Ryans assistant gunner, but he was not on the mission that July day. My first worry when I heard he had been hit was whether or not he was going to make it back ... Its a big relief to have him here.
For one Army veteran and USO volunteer, Andersons reunion with his Soldiers was an honor to see. Denny Hamilton, a Vietnam veteran and former combat aviator, joined the celebration to thank Anderson for his service, and said it was a relief to see him welcomed home with such love and admiration.
We came home (from Vietnam) a very different way, and I am glad to see that America woke up and gave him the heros welcome he is most deserving of, Hamilton said.
The Andersons spent the weekend with friends, most of whom returned from Afghanistan two weeks ago, before he returned to Walter Reed Tuesday. Anderson was scheduled to have his 49th surgery Wednesday, when doctors planned to place new rods in the spatial frame stabilizing his right leg.