Cpl. Joe Mille of the U.S. Army vowed he would march again after losing part of his leg to an explosion while serving in Afghanistan. Now, he's just waiting for the paperwork.
The Galloway Township man — who was promoted to corporal after he was wounded in January — expects to be sent to Fort Benning in Georgia within the first two months of the new year. There, he will train in hopes he is once again deployed.
“I figure I can go down there (to Georgia) and kind of build a resume so, when I eventually go back to a line unit, I don’t look so broke,” Mille said Wednesday as he sat in his mother’s Galloway Township home, where he spent Christmas.
He currently has an apartment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., while he continues working out and waiting for his clearance.
Mille, 21, lost his leg Jan. 10, while on patrol with his unit in Kandahar. Rushing to help a comrade who had set off an improvised explosive device, Mille triggered another. Both men lost part of one leg.
From his hospital bed, the then-20-year-old told his mother: “I will march again. I will march in uniform. The Army’s not getting rid of me that easy.”
That goal has not changed. But first, there are the steps beyond his control.
Even though he won’t be collecting disability, he has to wait for that clearance through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ benefits before he can be cleared for an assignment.
“You can imagine the frustration to have to wait on something I don’t need,” Mille said.
He continues to work. During his daily trips to the gym, he prefers the track over the treadmill, which he says is too boring. While staying with his family, he’s taken to the roads around their home to get in his running.
“He’s pretty much completely himself again,” said his sister, Marissa, who lived with Mille for a while in Bethesda. “He’s back doing what he was doing before, just like he said he would. And he did it in less than a year.”
Less than three months after the explosion, Mille took his first steps. By August, he was running.
He’s been through about seven prostheses as doctors tried to get the height just right. Now, he has one that he wears most of the time, and another he changes into to run, which has a curved bottom instead of an artificial foot.
“With the leg, you’re running on your tiptoes, so that takes some getting used to,” he explained. “You have to exert more energy because of that.” Mille changes into the running prosthetic with ease, as another runner might pull on his socks and running shoes.
He wants to make sure he can do two miles in 16 minutes and get through a five-mile ruck march, a hike with backpack and gear.
“You don’t have to be able to do those things, but it makes you look not so broken,” he said.
Those who know Mille see him as anything but broken. He’s still the same guy with a dry sense of humor and intense determination — including successfully battling his little brother for control of the television remote.
“Our younger brother learned (that) the hard way last night,” Marissa wrote in a text, followed by a smilie face.
As the one-year anniversary nears, Mille said he doesn’t really think about the explosion. And it’s not something he will worry about if he’s deployed again.
When asked what he would tell others in position, he has only one suggestion: “Be patient.”
It’s something he needs to remind himself as he waits for the call that will begin his journey back to active duty.
But, he says, “It’s the only thing you can really do.”
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow @LyndaCohen on Twitter