Iraq Amputees Beat the Odds -- and the Competition
Quality of Life for War Amputees Rising -- and Some Even Run Triathlons

June 2, 2007 —

The Pentagon has spent billions of dollars to protect soldiers in Iraq from makeshift bombs, but new casualty figures this week suggest it is the insurgents who are winning this arms race.

The devices are increasingly sophisticated and the death toll continues to rise. According to the Pentagon, improvised explosive devices or IEDs now account for nearly 80 percent of all military deaths in Iraq.

That figure would be even higher if it were not for dramatic advances in battlefield medicine. Soldiers and marines are surviving attacks that would have killed soldiers in earlier wars. And those who lose limbs have a quality of life impossible for an amputee a generation ago.

Gunnery Sgt. Angel Barcenas lost both his legs in Iraq. He is one of more than 600 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs.

He remembers the moment.

"I saw my leg wasn't on me anymore," he said. "I know I didn't have a left foot, but I wasn't sure about my right."

He now has prosthetics that allow him not just to walk, but to run.

"I think I had just gotten my legs before I saw somebody running on legs, and I said, 'In about three weeks, that will be me,'" he said. "Naturally, it didn't take three weeks, but that was my goal."

Another veteran, Mike McNaughton, is missing one leg, but has two prostheses. To run, he uses an extremely light leg that acts like a spring. His walking leg is heavier and uses artificial intelligence to anticipate his movements.

"You can adjust it the way you want," McNaughton said. "Like when I'm playing soccer, I can adjust where it swings out a little quicker."

No one has inspired more of the amputees than Maj. Dave Rozelle, who lost his lower leg in an attack on his Humvee.

Rozelle went on to compete in an Iron-Man triathlon. But that is not what most impresses his colleagues. He also signed up for another tour of duty in Iraq, commanding a cavalry troop in combat.

Today is he working to build a new amputee athletic center at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

That's where he met Rich Ingram, who lost his arm in Iraq, and issued a challenge to train for a triathlon.

"Dude, I'm in," was Ingram's response.

And he meant it. Ingram is now in San Francisco, training for his second triathlon.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.