Thursday, December 30, 2010

NY amputee continues career in U.S. Army

From the Watertown Daily Times:

Sgt. Charles W. Berninghausen (pictured) thought his Army career might be over after an improvised explosive device nearly killed him in Iraq in 2007.

The 27-year-old Brasher Falls native had knocked on the door of a house while leading a night patrol in Ramadi. The blast from an IED planted in a wall next to the door pierced him head to toe with shrapnel and seriously wounded eight others.

His left leg, severely fractured at the ankle, had to be amputated 3 inches below the knee after a series of surgeries and antibiotic-resistant infections that followed.

Nearly four years later, he is the first amputee to have completed the Warrior Leader Course at Fort Carson, Colo.

"It feels good to have done it, but I'm disappointed it took me so long to get to this point," Sgt. Berninghausen said in a telephone interview. "I feel like I'm kind of behind the curve, but it feels good. I got to prove some people wrong."

He said his decision to stay in the Army despite his injury was easy.

While he was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., some colleagues suggested he pursue military intelligence, Sgt. Berninghausen said. He decided to follow their advice.

His choice at first did not sit well with his parents, Mark W. and Barbara E. Berninghausen, Brasher Falls, but they supported him, his father said.

"I was disappointed there were not other opportunities for him in the north country," Mr. Berninghausen said. "But it's not like I could tell him what to do. He doesn't let anything in life hold him back."

Mrs. Berninghausen said her son's decision was easier to take knowing that although he wanted to remain on active duty, he would not return to combat.

"He said he would never put himself in a situation where other people were counting on him to be 100 percent able-bodied," she said. "I think he has opened doors for other amputees. He's done a lot of things that I think he even thought wouldn't have been possible a few years ago."

A review board in June granted Sgt. Berninghausen's request to remain on active duty. He completed the Warrior Leader Course in November.

He said the 36-hour training exercise teaches land navigation and fighting strategies and leadership skills. He had to pass academic challenges and lead a squad in field exercises.

It was his first tactical exercise since his injury. The physical exercise has continued.

"I still have to do PT every morning and train in the field," he said. "It's been kind of a lengthy process from then until now, but I don't generally take no for an answer."

He said the only problem he had was with running, made possible with the help of a prosthesis.

"I fell in some tall grass on the last day and twisted my knee," he said. "It was definitely challenging."

His wife, former high-school sweetheart Megan K. Gendron Berninghausen, daughter of Susan M. Francis and Norman N. Gendron, said she supports wholeheartedly her husband's decision to stay in the military.

"It was hard at first, but seeing how much worse off some of the other people were at Walter Reed made me realize our life wasn't over," she said.

Sgt. Berninghausen has moved on to military intelligence training in Arizona. Once that is finished, he again will be stationed at Fort Carson, where his family awaits the March birth of a second son, a brother for Jacob W., 2.

His wife said he was home for Christmas.

"He'll always, always be my hero and my rock," Mrs. Berninghausen said, her voice breaking. "I don't know where I would be without his strength to get through this. Seeing how determined he was is what really got me through."