Army Veteran, Double-Amputee Finds New Battlefield in DC

Rep. Brian Mast of Florida lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan.

January 27, 2017, 3:13 PM

— -- Florida Congressman Brian Mast says he decided to run for office on a day seven years ago when he woke up in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Army bomb technician had been serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as part of the Joint Special Operations Command. “We came to a place on the battlefield that I told my guys I was pretty sure that there was a bomb buried somewhere there,” Mast said. “I found it in a way I didn’t intend to.”

Mast stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both of his legs and his left index finger in the blast. His injuries ended his 12-year military career, but not his commitment to service. “The most important lesson my father ever gave me was very shortly after I was injured,” Mast recalled.

“He said, 'Brian, you can't let this keep you down ... You cannot let your kids see you sitting on your butt regardless of what happened to you, because your kids will think it’s an OK way for them to go through their life. That's when I decided the most important fight of my life could be here in Washington, D.C. in another capacity.”

The father of three announced his candidacy for Florida’s 18th congressional district on June 8, 2015 and defeated five fellow Republicans in the primary election before winning the general election against Democratic businessman Randy Perkins.

Mast arrived in Washington six days later for what’s known as freshman orientation for first-time members of the House of Representatives. “I called freshman orientation 'kindergarten for Congress,'” Mast said.

“You’ve heard it said by a hundred different representatives that their first day, it’s like drinking from the fire hose -- and there's some truth in that. They’re explaining to you the system of getting your office, and then what you have to do to set up your office, and you're hiring staff from the chief of staff to the legislative director and the scheduler all the way down the line -- on top of trying to be proficient in every bit of policy that exists out there, because you never know what you are going to get asked about.”

Mast says he has two clear priorities for this first term. He’s focused on propping up the Army Corps of Engineers with an eye toward addressing water- quality issues along Florida’s Treasure Coast. And Mast knows there are many people counting on him to be a strong voice for veterans in Washington.

“It is important that I be the loudest possible representative that I can be for our service members coming back home, and making sure that they're getting the care that they deserve from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That when they walk in the door of the VA, they're treated like they're the most important veteran to ever walk in that door, because that's what they deserve.”

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