CINCINNATI - More than 1,000 US service members have lost a limb in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But many are actually returning to combat thanks to bionic legs and arms.
The latest weapon on the battlefield is not a robot, but a bionic leg. In one case, attached to Sgt. Jourdan Smith of the US army. "It's kind of like I have my leg back when I got this one, 'we're gonna start giving you power now' wow, that's awesome!"
Sgt. Smith and his bionic ankle have come to Tactical Defense Institute outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is one of five amputees participating in a pilot program learning how to handle firearms using their bionic limbs.
A bullet took Sgt. Smith's leg. A bullet fired by an Iraqi insurgent during an ambush in Baghdad. The names of his buddies who didn't survive are etched on his arm. "It's rough, it's hard. Why did I live and they didn't? Why did I get hurt? Four inches, the bullet would have missed me. Either way, four inches."
The infantryman has been using the "Iwalk Biom Foot" for about a year. Smith says, "My good leg gets tired before my prosthetic leg. This one's got assistance. I'm trying to keep up with it."
That's because it is truly bionic -- a piston replaces the calf muscle and achilles tendon -- and with six microcomputers inside, it even does the thinking for the lower leg.
"This seems to go beyond what the manufacturers claim it can even do." Sam Santa Rita owns SRT Prosthetics -- which fits amputees with several kinds of artificial limbs like the bionic knee.
But the biom ankle is a game changer. It's stronger than the human leg it replaces. Strong enough to send this soldier back into combat. Sgt. Smith says it's as simple as reloading. "It's a battery, it doesn't get tired. If it dies, swap 'em out, two seconds you're going right back at it."
More and more military amputees are staying on active duty -- and returning to battle.
A generation ago, nearly 98 percent of amputee warriors would leave the military. Now the army says one out of five single-amputee soldiers returns to full duty.
That's why the defense department and veterans administration funded development of the bionic ankle and other advanced prosthetics.
But now civilian amputees are benefiting from this military technology.
Sam Santa Rita says, "We are probably going to see people that are performing at a higher level than able-bodied people."
Tactical Defense Institute and SRT are now offering a firearms course just for amputees.
But Sgt. Smith has can slip on his bionic leg and keep up with anyone. "Not necessarily kicking in doors, but you know being a squad leader, a team leader, whatever, yeah I think I could keep with them."
Sgt. Smith is returning to active duty at Fort Same Houston in Texas and as an infantry sergeant, he'll likely head back to combat with his bionic leg.