Army Sgt. Will Glass had plans to start college, a business and maybe even a family after his active-duty commitment was to expire in April 2006.
Instead, the Army extended his deployment in Iraq, and he was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in September of that year, while on his second tour of duty.
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The blast scorched his face and hands, destroyed his left eye and left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that forced doctors to remove part of his skull.
He was in such serious condition when he left Iraq that soldiers pinned a Purple Heart to his chest, certain he would not make it home alive. Six months later, Glass was able to show me that Purple Heart when I visited him at his home in Eugene, Ore.
"I understand I wasn't supposed to make it," Glass said.
While he has no memory of the roadside bomb that wounded him, Glass will bear the scars of the attack for the rest of his life.
'Didn't Even Look Like Will'
At 23 years old, he faces years of rehabilitation to recover from his injuries, even though he has already made tremendous strides since he first arrived at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Glass's wife, Amelia, recalls the moment when she saw her husband for the first time. It was just a month after their first wedding anniversary.
"His whole face was burnt and he had tubes coming out of his head and his throat," she said.
Glass' mother, Karen Mitchell, said, "It didn't even look like Will. I wouldn't have known until they pointed over to where he was."
Amelia took photos of her husband with a cell phone so she wouldn't forget how she felt that day. "I wanted to remember how bad it used to be, so that we could be excited about how he looks now," she said.
She never believed her husband would be injured in Iraq. "He made it through the first deployment fine," she said, "and he was always so smart and so careful, I just figured he would be OK."
Bitter Call of Duty
Amelia and Will Glass blame his injury not only on the enemy that planted the bomb, but also on the Pentagon's stop-loss policy, which allows the military to issue orders keeping soldiers overseas even after their active-duty commitments have ended.
The military's stop-loss policy was initially created during the Vietnam War, but has been routinely implemented since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
According to the Department of Defense, more than 180,000 soldiers have served multiple tours in either Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2001, and the total number of soldiers across the Armed Services who have served multiple tours in those wars is more than 400,000.
"Essentially it's a backdoor draft," said Amelia. "They're just sending the same guys back there again and again and again, and it is completely unfair."
There is no doubt that the circumstances surrounding Glass' injuries have made him and his family angry. His mother has been outspoken in her denouncement of the war and the stop-loss policy, even writing an editorial for her local paper.
And since the injury, Glass has had to sideline his dream of working on cars. "I was going to start my own shop," he said. "That's what my plan was. But not anymore."
Now his plan includes physical therapy and taking things one day at a time. Amelia dropped out of college so she could take care of her husband and navigate the bureaucratic maze of military health care. "It's really frustrating," she said, describing dealing with the paperwork. "It's really complicated, especially for me since I am not in the military."
Despite the challenges, the couple say the experience has strengthened their marriage. "She's been there since day one," he said.
Signs of Improvement
Glass recently finished eight weeks of therapy at the VA Polytrauma Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and last month he flew back to Bethesda for one more surgery to repair his skull. Amelia reported that since the surgery Will has much more energy, and has stopped suffering from the severe headaches that plagued him.
He has certainly come a long way since the first time I met him, when he could not even stand up and had trouble speaking.
He still has difficulty bending his hands and buckling his seat belt, and he will need surgery on his fingers if he ever hopes to return to his dream of restoring cars, but Glass and his family are focused on the future.
"It's easy to get down about what has happened but it's easier to look forward," said Amelia. "And he's got a good future, hopefully."
It certainly looks like it. The couple just adopted a puppy, and are planning on buying a house. And though he does not ignore it, Glass said he no longer follows the news about Iraq. "I guess I don't really care anymore," he said. "I've just had it with that place."