Sgt. First Class Greg Robinson, 34, of 101st Airborne Division, greets fellow soldiers April 29 at Fort Campbell, Ky., after graduating from air assault school. He lost a lower portion of his right leg in Afghanistan in 2006 and is the first amputee to graduate from the grueling Sabalauski Air Assault School. (Kristin M. Hall/AP)
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FORT CAMPBELL, KENTUCKY — Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson has become the first amputee to complete Army air assault school, a course so grueling his prosthetic leg broke twice over the 10 days spent rappelling down ropes, navigating obstacle courses and completing long road marches.
Each year thousands of soldiers are physically and mentally tested to their limits at the Fort Campbell school. Instructors said Robinson accomplished everything other participants did and trainers cut him no slack even though he lost part of his right leg in a 2006 deployment to Afghanistan.
When he joined his teammates at a brief graduation ceremony Monday at the Sabalauski Air Assault School, it was a testament to what can be achieved by amputees. War wounds from Iraq and Afghanistan and the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon have highlighted the challenges that amputee patients face to recover.
An inspiration to the bombing victims? Robinson, 34, said his attitude was one of just wanting to complete the same program he sends soldiers to who are under his command.
“Right now, I am a platoon sergeant,” Robinson told reporters after graduating. “I have roughly 30 men in my platoon. As a leader, I didn’t want to tell my soldiers that they needed to go to air assault school, if I am not air assault qualified.”
Robinson even toughed out Monday’s 12-mile (19.3-kilometer) road march even after he had to repair his leg during the march. Earlier, he learned to rappel from a 34-foot (10.3-meter) tower and pushed through the strenuous obstacle course.
Robinson was wounded during an attack during a major military operation in 2006. Robinson said his traumatic injury wasn’t going to prevent him from meeting some of the Army’s toughest standards.
The 101st Airborne Division, unlike other airborne units that use planes, uses helicopters to quickly drop troops into combat and move equipment around the battlefield.
Each day of the course begins with running a couple of miles and troops are expected to carry a 35-pound (15.8-kilogram) ruck sack as they complete their tasks.
His instructor, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Connolly, said at first there was concern whether he was going to make it through when a piston in his leg stopped working during the obstacle course.
“He got down and fixed it, reattempted the obstacle and went back on,” said Connolly.
Capt. Greg Gibson, an Army nurse with Robinson’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said in his experience treating amputees, attitude and will are critical to recovery. He said Robinson’s attitude was what pushed him to finish the course.
“Some of these guys never even learn to walk on a prosthesis, let along go through the air assault course,” Gibson said.