Lewis-McChord captain loses legs - but not his spirit

Lewis-McChord captain loses legs - but not his spirit
In July of 2009, the Army sent its first Stryker team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord into Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment stepped straight into the heart of an insurgent stronghold.

They made hard-fought progress, but at a price.

Within weeks the 1-17 suffered its first casualty, and the losses quickly mounted.

"Of the brigade, we took the highest number of killed-in-action casualties," says retired Army Captain Dan Berschinski. "It was, I believe, we lost 25 men. Which at the time was the highest of any single battalion that had ever served in Afghanistan."

The weapon of choice - improvised explosive devices.

But IEDs don't always kill.

"After we had consolidated our position, I was walking down a dirt path, and I stepped on my own bomb and lost both my legs," Dan described.

Just a month after arriving in Afghanistan, Capt. Berschinski was done fighting the war and just beginning the fight for his life.

"I can't really explain how, but I just knew both legs were gone," he said. "And very high up. I do remember reaching my hands down to feel for my legs. I don't remember feeling anything. I don't remember if there was anything to be felt."

Seven days later, Dan woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

There were other amputees, but their injuries were less severe.

And while his care team was optimistic he would walk again, no one really knew if it was possible.

"So I asked the prosthetic team at Walter Reed to reach out to their network and see if anyone in the world had ever made this happen. And it turns out that there's one guy. And his name is Andre Kajlich, and he's from Seattle."

Andre Kajlich not only walks, he practically flies.

He is a world-class athlete.

In 2003, Andre was studying in Prague, having the time of his life.

No one knows how he wound up being hit by a train.

Like Dan, Andre lost both legs, one above the knee, and the other at his hip.

"Some of the Czech doctors were telling my parents that I might not sit again," Andre said. "So they were really not optimistic about my outlook."

But Andre had his own optimism, just three days after waking up from a coma.

His sister Bianca Kajlich explained, "He was already making a list of, these are the things I can do. It was never, oh I can't do this. There were worries about things, but his focus was always, the things I can do."

This summer, Army doctors invited Andre to visit Walter Reed to work with Dan and others, showing them that tasks that used to be simple - like getting up off the floor - can be simple again.

As we go through the motions of life, there are so many we take for granted, including walking down a hill

Andre shifts and swings and steps with such ease, only a fellow amputee knows how hard this is.

"If you ask me, 'Hey Dan, is it possible to walk down this ramp with one cane and then jump down at the end?' I would say no, are you kidding me? But clearly I'm wrong. So that's cool," Dan said as he watched Andre.

The soldiers are inspired by Andre for what he can do.

Andre is inspired by them for what they have done.

"They're tough guys in what they've been through. Not just in their injuries but before that. These were truly some of America's finest soldiers. And they're very capable," Andre said.

Andre and Dan have a common bond forged not through their injuries and not just through the will to live.

But to live, and love every minute of it.