Joshua Wege and Brian Urruela are living the “new normal.”
It was forced upon them after separate, horrendous incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Retired Marine Lance Cpl. Wege, 22, lost both legs below the knees when his light-armored vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) on Oct. 4, 2009, while on routine patrol in Afghanistan.
Retired Army Sgt. Urruela, 25, lost his right leg below the knee when his heavy armored vehicle was struck by two IEDs in Iraq the same month.
Both will be part of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, which is playing at 7 p.m. on Friday at Bonita Springs Community Park. The team will play two games, at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., on Marco Island on Saturday.
These young, extremely athletic men, sustained severe injuries resulting in amputation while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Through extensive rehabilitation, they have become competitive athletes again.
Their armor now includes prosthetic legs and arms, along with extreme perseverance and attitude.
Wege was a month away from being shipped out of Afghanistan.
“I was packed up and ready to head out,” he said.
On Oct. 4, 2009, he was on routine patrol in Helmand Province, at the southern tip of Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, when his light armored vehicle was struck by an IED.
“I was in shock,” he said. “It was surreal, I was 19 at the time. I looked down and it was something I was not ready to see. I didn’t say a word.”
Immediate treatment saved his life.
“I wouldn’t be here if a Navy corpsmen and guys worked on me, probably within 30 to 45 seconds,” Wege said. “I was losing a lot of blood.”
Wege was treated at a field hospital and at Camp Leatherneck, a full hospital for Marines, then at Bogham Air Force Base in Iraq. From there he was shipped to Bethesda Naval Hospital, now Walter Reed, where he underwent major surgery and rehab with prosthetic care for 18 months.
He returned home to Campbellsport, Wis., on May 25, 2011, and retired June 29, 2011.
While at Walter Reed, part of rehabilitation was competing in the inaugural Warrior Games, like an Olympics. He medaled in all his events, including track, volleyball and basketball. He received five golds and one silver, with all the golds coming in track.
“I don’t like running that much,” he said, “but I do like softball.”
Wege played three nights a week this summer in Campbellsport and 17 games with the Warriors team, whose record is 10-7.
“When I got home, I felt more relaxed,” he said. “I really wanted to be with my family and appreciate them.”
Wege is taking general education courses online, and plans on majoring in psychology to become certified in prosthetics for a career.
“I want to help other people with lower extremity injuries,” he said. Wege also looks forward to one day competing in the Paralympics.
For Urreula, the Army was to be a way of life. He left home before he was 18.
“I love my family, but like being gone and having my comfort zone,” he said.
A sergeant, he was at the end of a year-long tour. It was October 2006.
“I was taking the right feet ride, taking around one of the new officers coming into let him see the area and what he has to work with, when we got hit by two IEDs on the road,” Urruela said.
Two others were seriously injured, losing limbs and a third died.
“When it happened it was kind of in slow motion at first,” he said. “I passed out for about a minute before I realized I was hurt and was in immense pain, the worst kind you can imagine.”
Urruela would go two years and 36 surgeries before determining his leg could not be saved.
“I had lost a lot of muscle and was in pain,” he said. “My foot and ankle just wouldn’t work.”
Urruela’s leg was amputated in 2009. He wanted to stay in the Army and become a drill sergeant. When he found he wasn’t going to get the position, he chose to retire in February.
“I planned on 20 years in the military, and one thing happens and screwed up everything,” he said.
Now Urruela is “relearning civilian life.”
“In the military I had a lot of pride, loved supporting my country,” he said. Urruela likes his birthday being on Veterans Day, “that’s kind of cool” he said.
He is going to school at the University of West Virginia and will be transferring to University of Tampa next semester, studying entrepreneurship.
“I’d like to start my own business, advising on investments and also establishing franchises,” he said.
Urruela joined a fraternity at West Virginia, but misses the Army.
“Obviously my best friends are on the softball team,” he said.
He is adapting to the “new leg. I don’t feel any different, this is my life now. The guys on the team are always talking about the new normal.”
Urruela likes the crowds that come to the games. He has played before as many as 8,000 people in a minor league stadium in Louisville.
“The games aren’t about overcoming a disability,” he said, “it’s (more about) how the kids look up to you. That’s a big part for a lot of us. If we can help out kids, amputees, it makes it all worthwhile.”
There will be no charge to attend either softball game. Donations will be accepted.
At Bonita Springs, Firefighters Local Union 3444 is coordinating the event. Prior to the 7 p.m. start, the colors will be presented, with John McMahon playing the bagpipes. He also will serve as umpire, in his kilts. There will be a silent auction and T-shirt sale.
At Marco, the 10:30 a.m. game will feature the police and fire-rescue members playing against the Warriors. The second will pit the Warriors against participants of the adult softball leagues.
The flag will be presented by the color guard of Marco Island VFW Post 6370. There will be food and refreshments, sold by the Marco Island Fire/Rescue Foundation. The Police Foundation will conduct a 50-50 raffle.
All proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior softball team.