In a few months, Robert Finn expects to be training to run, to skateboard and to surf. But first, he’s having his foot amputated.
Finn, a specialist in the Army, was in Afghanistan Dec. 4 when the Stryker armored vehicle he was in was hit with an improvised explosive device.
“I was doing an operation to help build roads and we were meeting up with gravel trucks when we hit an IED,” said Finn during an interview at his mother’s home in LaGrange. “There were eight of us and we all made it out alive. I was injured the worst. It went off right under me.”
Finn didn’t realize he was injured at first – not until he tried to stand up.
“I yelled for somebody to get me out. A friend who had been with me through Iraq and Afghanistan called for a medevac,” he said.
He was flown to Kandahar where he had his first surgery before being flown to Bagram Airfield, then to Germany, then to Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, then, finally, to Augusta – all in less than a week. His injuries – mostly below the knees on both legs – were extensive, including 12 broken bones and a crushed heel.
Finn grew up in LaGrange, attended LaGrange High School, but dropped out and earned a GED. He joined the Army in January 2008 because he was still “figuring out what I wanted to do.”
He liked the Army. In his basic training, he trained to work on the M1 Abrams Battle Tank, but then was sent to Alaska to an infantry unity. He was first deployed for a year in 2008 and 2009 to Iraq. He was sent to Afghanistan in April 2011.
His mother, Sharon Cook, was at home on a Sunday afternoon when the phone rang. She didn’t get to it right away, but saw Ft. Wainright – her son’s Alaska base – on the caller ID.
“I knew it wasn’t good,” she said. When she spoke to her son’s captain he assured her that her son was alive.
“The first thing he said was, ‘He’s alive, but he’s hurt.’ He couldn’t tell me anything else that day.” She was told he was in serious but stable condition.
“I did talk to him later that day. He had already had surgery and he was drugged up, but I heard his voice and I knew he was OK,” Cook said.
Once Finn made it to Augusta, Cook and her family spent most of the holidays with him. She took family medical leave from her job at Home Depot to spend more time in the early weeks of his recovery.
These days, Finn’s schedule is full of therapy – speech therapy, visual therapy, physical therapy. He’s also had multiple surgeries on his lower legs. From the beginning, he knew that there was a possibility his crushed heel wouldn’t ever be put back together well enough to walk on.
“They finally gave me a choice. I could do two more years of surgeries and therapy and have a 20 percent chance of keeping my leg. Or I could amputate it. I decided to go with the amputation,” he said.
The amputation of his ankle and foot, starting about six inches below his knee, is scheduled for April 25. Two months after surgery, he’ll be transferred to a rehabilitation center in Texas where he’ll be fitted with a prosthetic.
“I’ll get therapy for that. That even teach you to adapt to sports with your prosthetic,” he said. A wave pool at the facility can be used to learn to surf. That’s something Finn is looking forward to.
“I’ve always wanted to surf,” he said.
Before that, however, he has months of work ahead of him. The therapy isn’t too bad, but the boredom is setting in, he admitted. The Wounded Warrior Project helps out some.
“They keep us from sitting in the hospital all the time. They get a bus to take us to events if we’re able,” he said. Last week he attended a breakfast at the Master’s golf tournament.
He has taken advantage of the long hours alone and is teaching himself to play the guitar. He’s also had a lesson on playing the bagpipes. His twice-a-month visits to LaGrange help break the monotony as well.
Through this experience, Finn thinks he’s figured out what he wants to do with his life – return to school and eventually work with prosthetics.
“It’s really interesting to me. And, it’s going to be part of my life,” he said.
Letters can be sent to Finn at this address:
Spc. Robert Finn
Charles Norwood VAMC
1 Freedom Way, 3E Room 131
Augusta, GA 30904