CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- He remembers everything: warning his fellow Marines, the explosion, the dust cloud, flying through the air upside down and the sight of his legs, torn off above his knees.
“It didn’t hurt, but I knew I was in pretty rough shape,” said retired Staff Sgt. Brad M. Lang, who was a technician with 2nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, when he reported to the scene of his last improvised explosive device in Afghanistan July 24, 2011.
It was an otherwise normal day when the call for assistance came in from the field.
At the scene, Lang quickly uncovered two IEDs while he and other Marines weathered harassing fire from the enemy. He was preparing to destroy the explosives when a single step triggered a third device.
It was his second deployment to Afghanistan, but his fight did not end there.
Lang’s world descended into shadows for nearly a month and a half. He remembers only foggy snippets of his life as doctors struggled to repair his damaged body – two severed legs, a fractured pelvis, lacerated colon and ruptured left eardrum.
His peers in the EOD community in Jacksonville, N.C., the city Lang calls home, rallied to support his wife and child as teams of medical professionals worked to save his life.
“I think in total I have had more than 20 operations and 74 units of blood or blood product,” recalled Lang coolly. “Less than a year out from injury, I was back at home walking on prosthetics.”
Lang’s experiences after the blast helped him forge a stronger relationship with his wife, Alyssa, and their 3-year-old son.
“My wife was unbelievable through the whole thing,” said Lang. “She kind of kept me grounded, kept me on the path to recovery, and didn’t let me fall down the slippery slope of feeling sorry for myself. It really helped, especially during the hard times of recovery.”
His injuries created a role reversal in their household. Lang said he still struggles to deal with having to watch his wife perform many of the daily chores he used to handle. Things as simple as carrying in the groceries or loading their truck now challenge him as they never did before.
Lang chose to seize his own independence and set to work on a new career outside of the military.
“When you are lying in a hospital bed, coming through a situation like this, one of your biggest fears is, ‘What is the rest of my life going to look like?’” remembered Lang. “One of the things I have always wanted was to continue to be a contributing member of society and continue to live a fulfilled life ... Independence is everything.”
He joined forces with Staff Sgt. Johnny W. Morris, a fellow EOD technician who also lost a leg in Afghanistan. The two men set out to launch their own business, Stumpies Custom Guns, Inc., a fully-functional gun store that sells, repairs and specializes in custom guns.
The name came at the suggestion of Lang’s wife, who joked, “You only have one leg between the two of you.”
Their company is now officially incorporated, and 27-year-old Lang has thrown himself into getting their enterprise on the road to success.
“The start up phase is very labor intensive,” said Lang, who originally went to school for engineering. He attended business classes to establish the groundwork for his company, and set his engineering experience and mechanical inclinations to work on his new passion.
He said he is proud to be a business owner, but he has also maintained the same humorous nature that inspired the company’s name.
“Life is too serious in and of itself,” added Lang. “You might as well just add a little humor into it. We make jokes all the time about not having legs.”
His wife joined wholeheartedly in keeping a comical spirit active within the family.
“I accidentally ran over Alyssa’s foot with my wheelchair,” said Lang as he recalled his time in the hospital. “She turned around and said, ‘Just because you don’t have any feet doesn’t mean I don’t like mine.’ That is just how we are.”
The family recently broke ground on a new home sponsored by Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing specially adapted homes for severely injured servicemembers.
Lang said he found a certain irony in his current house, which he personally remodeled before his last deployment. His mobility devices have already taken a toll on his hand-laid moldings. The new house will help accommodate his specific needs.
Even with his injuries, his new business and the prospects of a new house, Lang said his experiences have taught him his family is truly important.
Lang’s evenings belong to them.
“My son has taken this totally in stride … No matter what, I am dad – legs or no legs,” he said. “He loves riding on my wheelchair. I have a skateboard I use to get around the house, too. I sit on it and push myself around. He sits on it with me, and we just go around the house.”
His passion for family extends to his brotherhood with 2nd EOD Company, who helped care for his loved ones in his absence and provided life-saving care at the scene of the explosion.
“My team member, who is not a corpsman, was able to rush in there and take care of my injuries,” said Lang passionately. “The one thing that truly saved my life is the live-tissue training we received.”
Lang personally greeted his unit the day they returned from Afghanistan. He received his prosthetic legs shortly before they arrived, and he made it a point to welcome them home while standing on his own two feet.