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thedrifter
11-02-05, 12:13 PM
Vet takes bold step
Alumnus shares war stories with students
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Wednesday, November 2, 2005.

By MARISSA WIDDISON
Valley Press Staff Writer
LAKE LOS ANGELES - Andrew Dassler said he has always been a joker.

So even after serving in Iraq for seven months and losing his leg in an explosion, the teenager was able to stand in front of a middle-school class and laugh about the experience.

"I don't want to say it was fun," Dassler said. "But … I try to have a good attitude about things."

This message came across loud and clear Tuesday morning as Dassler spoke to a group of eighth-grade students at Challenger Intermediate School, where Dassler himself went to school as a child.

Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts that allowed him to show off his prosthetic right leg, Dassler said he always wanted to be in the military. He enlisted in with the Army after graduating from Littlerock High School in 2003.

He answered questions from the students about artillery - Dassler's specialty - and about what the families were like in Iraq. Finally, social studies teacher Bruce Galler asked if he felt comfortable talking about how he lost his leg.

"Yep" was the immediate reply. He had been in Iraq for almost seven months , Dassler said, when he was assigned to drive a Humvee in southeast Baghdad.

"I'm not the greatest driver," the 19-year-old admitted, "and there were potholes and bumps and everything."

Suddenly there was an explosion - the vehicle had run over an IED (improvised explosive device), which Dassler defined as "kind of like a land mine."

The young man said he struggled to get out of the car, embarrassed because he thought he kept tripping and falling. Only when he looked down at his leg did he realize that it had been severely injured.

"When the medic ran up … he was like, 'Dude, man, you like singed your eyebrows off!' " Dassler said. "I said, 'That's not the real problem!' And he was like, 'Right, right! Sorry!' "

As Dassler recounted this story, a pile of essays sat on a desk at the back of the classroom.

Last week, Galler assigned the class to answer the question, "Who are today's patriots?" Before long, Galler realized that his students were struggling with the essay. Then he heard that Dassler had returned from Iraq.

"I thought, 'Here's a local 19-year-old patriot who can teach these kids what it's all about,' " Galler said. "They could learn from him what they could never learn from a textbook."

Dassler's parents were also there Tuesday to share their experiences with the class. While Dassler's stories were laced with laughs, his parents' views were more sobering.

His father, Steve, got news of the accident first. The class was quiet as he described his initial reaction to the phone call: His knees went shaky. He tried to write down the details, but couldn't.

"I went in and had a prayer, and that helped calm me down," Steve said. Then he called his wife, who was out of town in Ohio at the time. Within days, the two were able to fly to Washington to visit Andrew at Walter Reed Hospital.

Now, 3 months later, they said Andrew's attitude has helped them along the healing process.

"He's always been like this," Andrew's mother Brigitte said. "He's always had a great spirit."

Brigitte said she is proud of her son for talking to the students.

"I think his attitude will impact them," Brigitte said. "He could say, 'What a bum deal!' But he chooses to see it as part of life and move forward … I think it shows kids how to deal with bad situations."

At least one student said he was impressed with Dassler's sacrifice.

"(Patriots) risk their lives by … fighting for our country or losing an arm or a leg for us," Tyler Gardner wrote in his essay last week. This description became a reality Tuesday as Gardner sat and listened to Dassler speak.

"He was serving our country, and he lost his leg for it," Gardner said after class.

Dassler said he now plans to go to school in San Diego, where we wants to study graphic design. But first he has to finish physical therapy in Washington, where he is also going to get a few more prosthetic limbs.

"They have prostheses for running, swimming, everything," Dassler said. Besides getting a special pivoting prosthetic for basketball, Dassler said he definitely wants to pick up a peg leg.

"So I can be a pirate for Halloween," he said, as the class chuckled.

Dassler got more than just a round of applause for speaking to the class.

He also was presented with certificates of recognition from the city of Lancaster and from the office of L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

mwiddison@avpress.com

Ellie