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Iraq vet who lost legs hopes to walk again

Saturday - 11/12/2011, 2:20pm  ET

By TIM PRATT
The Capital of Annapolis

PASADENA, Md. (AP) - Wheeling around his spacious house on Long Hill Road in Pasadena, wounded Army veteran Luis Rosa-Valentin is at ease.

He fixes breakfast for his youngest daughter, Bella, plays ball with his German shepherd and rolls smoothly onto his expansive back deck.

But if Rosa-Valentin has his way, the wheelchair soon will be a thing of the past.

The 2001 Meade High School graduate, who lost both of his legs and one of his arms when an improvised explosive device blew up inches from his feet 31/2 years ago in Iraq, is undergoing physical therapy several times a week with the hope that he soon will walk again on new, prosthetic legs.

When that day comes, it will be the result of years of physical therapy, more than two-dozen surgeries and countless trips to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda with longtime friend Josh Hubbell.

He already has a prosthetic left arm.

"I'm going to be relieved when I can put this chapter in my life behind me," Rosa-Valentin said.

Rosa-Valentin grew up in a military family on Fort George G. Meade. His father, Luis Rosa-Alberty, a 22-year Army veteran, was an intelligence officer.

For as long as Rosa-Valentin can remember, he wanted to join the Army. He signed up when he was 17 and went away to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., when he was 18.

His first day of basic training was Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., rocked the country.

"From day one, we knew it was war time," he said.

In 2003, Rosa-Valentin was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. He helped capture Saddam International Airport, now called Baghdad International Airport, and enjoyed the rush of being a soldier.

"It was just action, action, action, go, go, go," he said.

Rosa-Valentin completed his first tour in Iraq and returned to the U.S., where he became an Army Ranger. In the 6th Ranger Training Battalion, he said he learned "great tactics" and "how to be a good leader."

Around this time, he got married for the first time to wife America and the couple had a daughter, Milinda, now 7.

After four years, Rosa-Valentin was sent to Miami, where his task was to recruit prospective soldiers into the Army. He realized quickly that he was a soldier, not a recruiter, and was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas.

Rosa-Valentin became a member of the 4th Infantry Division and was deployed to Iraq for a second time in early 2008. Two months later, his life changed forever.

He was leading a company down a Baghdad street when they encountered heavy enemy fire. He shot and killed an Iraqi who was trying to ambush the patrol with a rocket-propelled grenade, he said, and was nearly shot by a sniper.

The sniper's bullet went between Rosa-Valentin's legs and struck another U.S. soldier behind him, he said. He took the other soldier back to the company's medics and returned quickly to action, where he killed two more insurgents.

"It was shooting and moving, shooting and moving," he said. "There was a lot of heavy fire, but I just kept moving forward - never a step back."

Then came the explosion. An improvised explosive device went off, "disintegrating" the bottom halves of his legs, along with his left arm, he said.

The blast broke every bone in Rosa-Valentin's face and cut his weapon, an M4 with a M203 grenade-launcher, in half. Part of his hand was found in his glove nearby.

Rosa-Valentin doesn't remember much of what happened next. A medic dragged him to safety and he was flown to a hospital in Germany.

After a week in Germany, where he spent his 25th birthday in a coma, Rosa-Valentin was flown to Walter Reed. He underwent at least 25 surgeries, he said.

Rosa-Valentin and his wife had divorced, but about four months after he awoke from his coma, she became pregnant with their second child, Bella, now 2. The couple remarried but recently divorced for a second time; Rosa-Valentin said "it's for the best."

Despite the divorce, Rosa-Valentin still has plenty of support. He lives with his two daughters, his sister, Iliana, and Hubbell. The group lives in a house donated to them by Homes For Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based non-profit agency that gives homes to wounded soldiers.

Hubbell and Rosa-Valentin have been friends since high school. When Hubbell found out his friend was injured, he started sending him emails and wondering what he could do to help.

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