Anderson mixes humor, inspiration in new book

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National USA Cares spokesman promotes 'No Turning Back' in E'town, Radcliff

By Marty Finley

Bryan Anderson had to hit bottom before he could find the confidence to reject a soul-sucking darkness and depression that could have broken him.


Anderson, a national spokesman for Radcliff-based military charity USA Cares, was severely injured by an improvised explosive device in 2005 while serving in Iraq, which resulted in the loss of both of his legs and his left hand, which he now covers with a prosthetic.

In Hardin County to promote his new book “No Turning Back” on Friday, Anderson said he is an accidental role model who has taken something that could have been debilitating mentally and physically and turned it on its ear in a positive way.

The book describes briefly the explosion and his ensuing rehab but covers more his journey after rehab and the work he has done to promote veterans issues and aid soldiers.

Supporters had been pushing him to write a book for years but Anderson was reluctant because he felt nothing made him stand out from thousands of other soldiers who had been injured during the war.

“I didn’t really have anything to write about,” he said. “I got blown up.”

But the requests didn’t stop as the years passed and he was propped up as a success story.

“People kept telling me I was inspiring them, and I wasn’t trying to,” he said. “It just kind of happened.”

He eventually relented and shared his story but said the focus was less on his accident and more on where his life has taken him since the explosion.

He peppered the book with humor and the self confidence he has adopted as part of his outlook on life. Anderson said he hopes those struggling with rough times can apply something from the book to their own lives.

But he also hopes it inspires people to stop worrying about what others think and open their eyes to what life has to offer.

“I think a lot of people just fall into settling,” he said. “They just get comfortable.”

Anderson himself could have settled for a life as a retired soldier mutilated by a bomb but had an epiphany of sorts four months into rehab, which made him realize he could wither away or start having fun. But he first had to hit a wall.

The severity of his impairment settled in one day while in the shower as he looked down at what was left of his body.

“I lost it,” he said. “I fell into a depression and I started having panic and anxiety attacks.”

He never considered suicide, but he did not want to go anywhere or be around anyone. Consequently, he struggled with loneliness and felt he could never be loved by a woman.

“Who’s going to love half a person?” he asked himself.

Some former schoolmates were starting to make waves with their band, Rise Against, and their song “Survive” resonated with him. He realized the lyrics were correct: How you survive is what makes you who you are.

He told his mother he wanted to have some fun and they spontaneously took off for Las Vegas, where he stripped away the sterile environment of a rehab facility for the bright lights of Sin City to plug himself back into the real world.

“I just lived in the moment,” he said.

He bottled the euphoria of the trip and patterned the rest of his life off of a desire not to be inhibited by the loss of his limbs. Along the way, he regained confidence and started making connections with girls because he had a swagger that trumped his disabilities.

“Some even find it sexy,” he said while laughing.

His desire to assist veterans of all branches and stripes is what attracted him to USA Cares. Anderson said he searched the country to locate the right organization, but it was not an easy find as those he approached were focused on one state or one branch.

“That’s not what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted to help everyone.”

Others, he said, could not be trusted because the focus was less on helping soldiers and more on making money.

Bill Nelson, executive director of USA Cares, said Anderson represents what USA Cares is trying to do because he does not differentiate between soldiers or branches.

“More than a few organizations would want to (take) a guy like Bryan and exploit him or pander to his injuries,” he said.

Their trajectories were similar, Nelson added, because the Radcliff-based charity started small and worked its way up the ladder to national prominence, much like Anderson has.

“We just hope we’re not too small-town for him,” Nelson said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.