Armored vehicle saved National Guardsman
'For some reason, I knew I was going to be OK'
Army National Guardsman Dale Beatty of Statesville patrolled near his base in northern Iraq for eight months waiting for a fully armored vehicle.
The day after one arrived, it saved his life but not his legs.
Without the Humvee's armored floors, Beatty thinks, he would have died when his unit drove over anti-tank mines two months ago.
Beatty is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, now and for many months. He is one of 10,372 U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq who must recarve their lives.
He is 26 and not bitter.
"I'm not angry, because I still have my life," he said in a phone interview from his family's lodgings at the medical complex. "I'm still alive. I'm with my family, my boys and my wife, so I'm thankful, you know?"
On Thursday, he received prosthetic legs, and the Army will help him find a job, if he doesn't return to managing the Statesville Armory.
His church is raising money to build him and his family a house. Before he deployed, they lived in a rented trailer.
In life, stuff happens, he said, and you have to deal with it the best you can.
"Hopefully, it will make me a better person," he said.
Beatty's unit -- Detachment 1, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery -- is stationed at a base between Mosul and Tikrit. The unit's job is befriending the locals and patrolling the area.About 90 percent of the people Beatty met were friendly, mostly nomadic sheep herders who invited soldiers to share food and tea even though they had little.
Still, the soldiers wished they had more vehicles manufactured with armor, instead of those with armor added later piecemeal, to parts other than the floor.
In October, Rock Hill-based soldiers elsewhere in Iraq refused to deliver fuel in unarmored vehicles.
On Nov. 15, Beatty and members of his group were riding in their vehicle when two anti-tank mines detonated through the Humvee's floor on Beatty's side. The Humvee flew 25 meters up the road. The next thing Beatty remembers was waking up next to the vehicle, his legs covered with debris.
It hurt and he could only see out of one eye, but he joked around with the guys. Beatty credits unit mate Ryan Pennington, an EMT from Kings Mountain, with stopping the bleeding enough to save his life.
"I asked God to let me see my boys again, and that's all I wanted," he said. "For some reason, I knew I was going to be OK."
At a hospital in Iraq, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee. He arrived Nov. 19 at Walter Reed, where doctors said the long-term outlook for keeping the lower part of his left leg was not good. Beatty told them to take it.
"I was missing things that you need to walk," he explained.
Beatty joined the Guard as a reservist the year he graduated West Iredell High. His grandfathers, great-uncles and uncle had served in the military; his father even served in the same Guard unit.
Beatty figured the Army was good for a "young, unguided soul" such as himself. He was working various jobs -- carpentry, restaurants.
In 2001, he married a high school acquaintance, Belinda Summers. Two years later, he became an active guardsman manning the Statesville Armory. The steady paycheck was a life-saver, especially when a son, Dustin, now 2 1/2, was born.
He had thought about college, but it was expensive, and anyway, he didn't know what he wanted to study. "I just chose to take a different path and see where it turned out," he said.
Last month, President Bush personally presented Beatty with the Purple Heart and promoted him from sergeant to staff sergeant.
`I'm still who I was before'
Beatty doesn't wish he were back in Iraq, but he is not sorry he went.
Somebody needed to help the Iraqis, he said, but he doubts the country will become a democracy unless Iraqis start working for it themselves.
His wounds are no one's fault except the person who planted the mines, he said.
"Of course I'm angry, but it's not going to do me any good to sit here and be bitter about it," he said.
Things could be worse. At Walter Reed, he sees soldiers missing all their limbs, others who remain in comas.
"I'm awake, I'm still who I was before," he said. "I'm able to function in a fairly normal manner. I can dress myself. I can feed myself. I can bathe myself pretty much."
At Walter Reed, he lives in a house for patients with Belinda, Dustin, and Lucas, 7 months. He savors the chance to "get back in their lives" after nearly a year away.
When Belinda Beatty heard about her husband's injuries, she wondered if Dale would take it hard and how she would handle that.
Instead, his attitude is helping her deal with the situation, she said. A drummer in a local Southern rock band, Beatty plans to teach himself to control the drum pedals with his prosthetic ankles. He kids her that she is finally taller.
"He accepted that this is what happened and this is how it's going to be for the rest of his life," she said.
Asking for pity won't make him or anyone else feel better, he said.
One night, he broke down in tears, overwhelmed by the support and good wishes from people from home, from across the country and from his church, Monticello United Methodist in Statesville.
When he first arrived at Walter Reed, all he could do was sit in his hospital bed and read letters, from people he knew and those he didn't.
He could not believe how many people would take the time to write someone they had never met.
"How much good can come out of people is just amazing," he said.
Want to Help?
To contribute to Beatty's house fund, call the Rev. David Comer at the Monticello UMC office, (704) 924-8322. To write Beatty, send mail to him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Fisher House 2, 6900 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20307.