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About 7:30 a.m. on April 15, while on ambush patrol in Afghanistan, former Rineyville resident Josh Pitcher stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost his left foot.
A month later, he attended his fiancée’s graduation ceremony at Eastern Kentucky University.
And on Oct. 20, Pitcher completed the Army 10-Miler in Washington, D.C., toting a 40-pound rucksack for good measure.
“I don’t give up,” Pitcher said. “It’s a quality I developed in ranger school.”
At the time of the explosion in Afghanistan, Pitcher was a 23-year-old second lieutenant with the 82nd Airborne Division. Despite his severe injury, Pitcher was determined to attend Michelle Smith’s graduation ceremony from Eastern Kentucky University in mid-May.
As fate would have it, Pitcher was able to get a seat on a plane carrying an Army general who was to speak at the EKU ceremony, so he got to attend the graduation.
“I don’t remember much of it since I was very medicated at the time,” he said.
Five months later, he was participating in the Army 10-Miler. He had participated in the event in 2010, so he knew what it was like.
Taking part in the run after this type of injury might have been daunting enough for many, but Pitcher “upped the ante” by adding a 40-pound rucksack just to see if he could do it, he said.
Not only did he succeed, he came in two minutes under the expected time of two hours and 30 minutes. His accomplishment reflects a history of military achievements.
In May 2011, Pitcher received his military commission from EKU with distinguished honors, branching infantry. His subsequent training included ranger school and air assault school. He became a platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Military life is something Pitcher is familiar with. Both his parents were military and he has a brother who just returned from Afghanistan.
When he joined he did so because he knew he’d have job security and adventure, he said.
“I get paid to jump out of airplanes,” Pitcher said.
A 2007 graduate of John Hardin High School, where he played soccer, Pitcher lives in Bethesda, Md. to be close to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“Monday through Friday, for about an hour and a half, I do physical therapy,” he said.
The physical therapy includes things like strengthening exercises and cardio, Pitcher said.
“At first, it was very challenging,” he said.
One of the most difficult things for him now is being told he won’t be able to do certain things, Pitcher said. The soldier thinks differently.
Pitcher uses prosthetics for walking, running and swimming. He said the adjustment to using them is coming along great.
“Quite frankly, I’m more marketable with one leg than most people are with two legs,” he said.
Still, Pitcher faces obstacles.
“The most challenging part of life is knowing my military career is on hold,” he said. “I feel like I’m missing out.”
What he misses most, he said, is making jumps and being in charge of troops.
For Pitcher, the challenge translates to a goal.
“I’m hoping to go back to my unit,” he said.
Among other goals is running a marathon this winter, Pitcher said. He also plans to pursue a master’s degree in homeland security.
During the past four years or so, Pitcher has found support in his fiancée, who he first met in early September 2008 while they both attended EKU. They were at a sorority/fraternity function.
“We’ve been together since,” he said.
Smith, he said, continues to express pride in him and motivates and inspires him.
“Michelle is my rock,” Pitcher said.
The couple has set a June 22 wedding date.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting to know Josh Pitcher