“All of a sudden the future came up to me and slapped me in the face and was like, ‘what are you going to do now?’”
That was how Marine Corps Captain Matt Lampert reflected on his life post-landmine explosion in Afghanistan that took both his legs in 2010. I had the honor and privilege to sit down with Lampert, who will be one of the notable speakers at TEDxFoggyBottom this Saturday. Lampert will discuss his story of combat injury, recovery and return to Afghanistan with prosthetic legs after just 18 months. Lampert’s profound insight on the state of disability and veterans’ affairs today reinforces how much of an American hero he is.
After Lampert was injured he had to ask himself, what next? In our generation of science and medical technology, military personnel are undergoing amputations and returning home safely. As wonderful as this is, Lampert noted, “We don’t have a generation of folks who’ve walked on prosthetics for that long.”
As a society we are still trying to figure out the roles and spaces for veterans with prosthetics. They should be “out of the shadows,” as phrased by Lampert, but unfortunately that is not the case for many. Building homes for veterans and giving them activities to do will help in the short-run, but Lampert emphasized how long-term reform is needed. In our society we need to normalize the experience of returning home from combat and having to redirect your life.
The demand for long-term care is due to the fact that these veterans are so young when they are getting injured. “I’ve seen my fair share of 19 year-olds who lose both their legs and an arm,” said Lampert. As they go about post-military life, often times they fall victim to suicide or substance abuse. Lampert has come to identify with the class of early-twenties military personnel who are coming back as amputees and pondering: what happens now?
“If you don’t provide them with meaningful work and employment and all the social benefits of that come along with that you’re going to have someone that’s going to live the rest of their life, 60 or 70 years, in the shadows”
Lampert humbly considers himself lucky because when he lost his legs he had a college degree, life experience and established career. Lampert decided to return to combat because, as a member of the military since the age of 18, this was all he knew and could identify with. While recovering in San Diego, his boss came to visit and offered him a job back in special operations. Lampert was still in a wheelchair and had braces on his arms, yet he was motivated to get back his unit. He cites his family support, job fortunes and sense of purpose as the root of his luck.
This luck was not something that could have been premeditated, but rather the best of an unfortunate situation. Lampert articulated what scares him the most is not missing his legs and feet, but instead “not having anybody to rely on me.” He fears that other military personnel, especially those who are so young, who have not been as auspicious will succumb to a sense of hopelessness. Lampert voiced how a community approach is the best way include those with prosthetics into mainstream society.
“Small, human-to-human interactions will make the solution to the problem better than waiting on some bureaucracy to help you out.”
Between returning to Afghanistan to be second in command of a special operations unit, mentoring future military leaders at the U.S. Naval Academy and teaching little kids with prosthetics to run, Lampert is working from the bottom up to reduce the stigma around artificial limbs and fulfill his and others’ quality of life.
Unlike typical TED Talks that put forth “vision” and “futuristic thinking,” Lampert will deliver a raw and honest story about bravery, life circumstances and meaning in life. Take from it what you will, but know that we cannot always glamorize the things that happen to us because that does not reflect our reality. “I had to reground myself,” remarked Lampert. “I just double downed and worked.”
Special thanks to Capt. Matt Lampert for his service and contribution to this article.