- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A soldier from Fort Hood in central Texas will never change his cellphone service.

“My cellphone saved my life,” Army Specialist Ezra Maes said.

Spc. Maes, 21, was assigned to the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division when he was injured about a year ago while his unit was on maneuvers in Poland as part of a joint training mission called Atlantic Resolve.

A loader for an M1A2 Abrams, Spc. Maes had been sleeping following an exhausting exercise when the 65-ton tank suddenly started rolling downhill, Army officials said in a release.

“I called out to the driver, ‘Step on the brakes!’” Spc. Maes said. “But, he shouted back that it wasn’t him.”

An investigation later revealed the tank’s parking brake failed and a hydraulic leak meant the emergency braking procedures were unresponsive. With their tank careening down the hill, they could only hold on.

Spc. Maes was thrown across the tank when it crashed into an embankment. All three crewmembers were seriously injured, Army officials said.

The driver, identified as Private First Class Victor Alamo, sustained a broken back. The gunner, Sgt. Aechere Crump, had a serious wound to her thigh. The turret of the tank slammed back on impact, crushing Spc. Maes’ leg.

“I pushed and pulled at my leg as hard as I could to get loose and felt a sharp tear,” Spc. Maes recalled. “I thought I had dislodged my leg but when I moved away, [it] was completely gone.”

Although seriously injured, he managed to crawl back into the rear of the tank and grabbed a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. They couldn’t call for help because the tank’s radio system was apparently damaged in the crash.

Then, Spc. Maes heard his cellphone ringing. Sgt. Crump, also seriously wounded, found it and tossed it to him. He managed to send out a call for help. The last thing he remembered was seeing his sergeant major running up the hill carrying the leg.

“I wanted to keep it [and] see if it could be reattached. But, it was pulverized,” Spc. Maes said, according to the Army.

In addition to losing a leg, Spc. Maes also broke his ankle, his pelvis and his shoulder. He spent four months in intensive care.

Spc. Maes is now recovering and learning to adapt to his new life at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He undergoes regular therapy to prepare him for receiving a prosthetic leg through a cutting edge procedure called osseointegration.

Rather than using a traditional socket to attach the prosthesis, surgeons at the hospital will implant a titanium rod in the bone of his residual limb. It’s not unlike a dental implant, hospital officials said.

Spc. Maes said he now wants to become a prosthetist and help others in his situation.

“When something like this happens, it’s easy to give up because your life won’t be the same and you’re not wrong,” he said. “Life will take a 180 but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Don’t let it hinder you from moving forward.”

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