I was commissioned in ’91. And I was branched into the Nuclear Biological Chemical Corps, because at the time the Gulf War was going on and they needed chemical officers. So I did that for a short while, and then I was able to secondary branch into Public Affairs, which is how I fulfilled the rest of my time in the service.
The date was September 17, 2001.
And it was on that day that Army Captain Leslie Smith boarded a plane bound for Bosnia.
It was not a safe place, per se, but we were there to help the local people rebuild their towns, and the schools, and the communities. To help them get back up on their feet after all the devastation.
Ask her, and she’ll tell you: “I had the best of both worlds.” As Captain Smith served her country and the Army, she was granted the unique privilege of working hand-in-hand with the Bosnian locals toward a common goal. This tour of duty was so rewarding that when it came time to think about going home, she chose to stay.
But a second tour was not to be.
About two weeks before the end of [my] first tour, I developed a blood clot in my left leg. I thought I had pulled a muscle or something, but when I went to the clinic, they did an ultrasound, and they said ‘blood clot’. More or less, I had to leave. There was no other option.
It was extremely devastating.
Captain Smith packed only what she could carry, and upon her arrival home was immediately admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where she soon fell gravely ill. Her family was called to say goodbye, and Smith was given but 24 hours to live. Despite her apparent “imminent death status,” the doctors didn’t give up, and neither did she.
They tried one last ditch effort, a medicine that very slowly started to turn things around. My body had started to produce thousands of clots. And it was just clotting off everything, killing off tissue and shutting my system down. So this medicine slowly started to reverse everything, but the damage was done. I had my left leg amputated right below the knee.
And I can remember going through the questions of: What do I do know? How can I ever be normal? Why me? How did this happen?
The doctors were mystified. Even more so when Captain Smith lost the vision in her left eye a few years later, and then the right a few years after that. Eventually, after a transfer to Johns Hopkins, Smith’s physicians determined that she was “exposed to some sort of chemical agent or a toxin.” What kind of chemical agent or toxin is anyone’s educated guess, but nevertheless the damage was done. The bright, stubborn Captain Leslie Smith had lost her leg, and was now legally blind.
Captain Smith is home, has a service dog she calls Isaac, and is intent on resuming a new normal life — with gusto. She wants to go shopping, and to have her hair done, and to have Isaac groomed. But one grows weary of depending on the kindness of friends and neighbors, people who have their own lives and their own schedules.
I came to get involved with [US Sedan Service] through the Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon. They’re based out of New Jersey, and I actually got involved with their organization while trying to help another veteran, and in talking, I mentioned something about driving, and the challenges that come along with relying on neighbors.
[The relationship with US Sedan] has been amazing, in that I no longer have to worry about how I’m going to get to the store, or to get my hair cut. When something comes up, I no longer have to think, ‘Okay, how am I going to make this work?’
I already know it will work, and it just alleviates all the stress.