‘The luckiest guy in the world’: Retired Marine is 1st above knee amputee ever to fly in B-52

June 16, 2012
By ELOISE OGDEN - Regional Editor (eogden@minotdailynews.comMinot Daily News

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. William "Spanky" Gibson achieved another first on Friday at Minot Air Force Base when he became the first above-the-knee amputee to fly in a B-52.
Gibson gained notoriety a few years ago when he was the first above-the-knee amputee to redeploy to Iraq.
He visited Minot Air Force Base Thursday and Friday as part of the American300 Warrior Tours' "Never Quit" series, a program supported by Air Force Global Strike Command. The Minot base is a unit of Global Strike Command.
Gibson's message and the American300 Warrior message to airmen at Minot AFB and other bases in Global Strike Command that he will be visiting is about being resilient.
Both Gibson and Robi Powers, founder and managing director of the American300 Warrior Tours, were on the B-52 flight Friday morning with a crew from the 5th Bomb Wing's 23rd Bomb Squadron.
Gibson said Thursday that he has parachuted out of many different planes.
"But when it comes down to something like this (B-52) and the legacy of this airplane, that's pretty amazing. I can't wait, I mean I'm really excited about this."
Originally from Pryor, Okla., Gibson now lives at Fort Sill, Okla. He has four children: sons, Colton, 13, Gunner, 11, daughter Lauren, 8, and Courtney, 20.
He retired from the Marine Corps this past October.
"I was the first above-the-knee amputee to redeploy to ground combat operations not only in Iraq but the best that anybody can tell me, historically since Civil War. That was the claim to fame in 2008," he said during an interview at the Minot base Thursday.
Gibson redeployed to Iraq in January 2008. When Fox News reported his redeployment, other media started calling him for interviews, he said.
"It blossomed with two really culminating events that sealed it as becoming a big deal for the military and for the Marine Corps," Gibson said.
Those two events were President George W. Bush wanting to use Gibson in his five-year speech. That was in May 2008. In April 2008, one of Gibson's teammates, a Navy SEAL, posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The day Gibson was shot in Iraq he was with a team of Navy SEALS, Marines and Iraqi special force members who were being trained.
Gibson was shot by a terrorist sniper's bullet. He said that literally, what probably saved his life is when he got shot through the knee, the SEAL medic, a young petty officer, did "a bang-up job" on him. The bullet had destroyed his knee.
But the fight didn't end when he was shot, Gibson said.
"I'm firing from the prone position because when I fell, I fell on my belly and the instinct was to just keep fighting because you have no choice," he said.
Other team members got him out of the area.
"I was a battlefield amputation. I was amputated within two hours of being shot," Gibson said.
Gibson, who lost his left leg, recovered at U.S. medical facilities and was in therapy for five months, he said.
"Five months after that I was back on active duty and 18 months after that I was back in Iraq," he said.
"The only reason I did the deployment is because I didn't want the Marine Corps to kick me out because I had 17 or 18 years in the Marine Corps. I wanted to leave on my own terms beyond 20 years," Gibson said.
He said he also had the right type of injury "being a gunshot wound and not being blown up which is 99 percent of the servicemembers so they have a lot of other collateral damages that delay their healing process. I didn't have that. I was able to rehabilitate very quickly and get back to duty very quickly."
Gibson returned to Iraq as an adviser to Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly. Kelly now is taking over U.S. Southern Command.
"Within six months of me being deployed, it opened the door for Corporal Garrett Jones who was a young corporal infantryman who stepped on a landmine, blew his leg off above the knee, was able to go to Afghanistan and do a short deployment and return with his guys," Gibson said.
Since, a number of above-the-knee amputees from all military branches have redeployed to Afghanistan, Gibson said. He said the first bilateral amputee an Army bilateral also has redeployed to Afghanistan.
"I don't know if I am but I would like to think I had some influence on that because these young warriors these young kids you see when they get injured and they lose a limb all they care about is getting back to their buddies back to their service and doing what they love to do," Gibson said. "It's hard for a lot of people to understand and in a time of war that a young kid will even after being wounded so badly would want to return to that. But it's a certain level of respect for our country and our flag that they have and it's accentuated by the injury and being wounded," Gibson said.
After his second deployment to Iraq, Gibson became the first enlisted congressional military legislative fellow, working for former House Committee on Veterans Affairs ranking member Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana.
Through the American300 Warrior Tour program, Gibson is interacting with young service members, also to show appreciation of them and give them the opportunity for lines of communication if they need.
As Gibson travels to bases to meet with airmen, he said he tells them, or will tell them: "If you've got life, you've got to live it to the fullest. You can overcome anything and if it's one of your buddies that's wounded or one of your buddies is injured, you can't look at them as a person with a disability. You've got to look at them as a person that has maybe a little bit of a limitation or limiting factor but you should encourage them to do everything they did before," he said.
Gibson plans to return to the Dakotas later this summer, but this time for a vacation with his two sons and to visit Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on his youngest son's birthday in August.
"I really am the luckiest guy in the world," Gibson said.

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