On Dec. 4, 2011, Army Spc. Robert Finn’s way of life was forever altered.
While serving in Afghanistan, Finn sustained major damage to both of his feet and legs when the Stryker armored vehicle he was in was hit with an improvised explosive device, or IED. Thanks to the love of his family, his tenacious spirit and almost 11 months of medical care and physical therapy, Finn is once again standing tall.
Finn is still going through physical therapy and evaluation at Fort Gordon in Augusta, but makes it a point to return to his home in LaGrange whenever he can. Finn returned home recently for a combined family reunion and church celebration. During this trip he remembered that December day and the many operations and trials he’s gone through.
“I was sitting in the gunner’s position and at first, I didn’t realize I was hurt until I tried to stand and get out of the vehicle,” Finn said. “There were seven other guys in the vehicle with me, but I was the most seriously hurt.”
Both of his feet and lower legs were severely injured, and he had to be dragged from the vehicle. Army Spc. Joseph Joyner, who sustained a fractured forearm, managed to pull Finn out to safety. Finn was then flown to Kandahar, where he had the first of 10 operations to try to save his feet and legs.
Finn’s injuries had left him in extreme pain and without the use of both of his feet. Finn’s left leg and foot had his tibia broken in two places, his fibula broken in three places, two metatarsals were broken and his heel was crushed. His right leg and foot were better, but still had breaks in the tibia, ankle and three metatarsals.
In an effort to have him regain the use of his left leg and foot, doctors operated on his knee and placed a metal rod in his lower leg. After four months of operations and physical therapy, Finn’s left foot was still not healing. On April 25, he had the lower portion of that leg amputated.
Finn has very strong ties to his family and credits his grandfather for being both his male role model and a strong influence in his decision to join the Army. Finn’s grandfather, retired 1st Sgt. Juan Visbal, was in the Army for 21 years, serving in the infantry in Korea and in transportation in Vietnam. Visbal also was at the family celebration.
Finn showed obvious pride when speaking of his grandfather.
“He has been my father. We both had the same job, I was a tanker and he was a tanker,” Finn said.
“I am very proud of him, he is just like my son,” Visbal said. “I stayed in the Army because I wanted a career, I didn’t want to be working in a factory, I wanted to be outside.”
Finn’s uncle, Jon Visbal said, “We are very proud of these guys, they have done some fantastic things protecting our country. The entire family is very proud of them.”
Finn’s Army experience started with basic training in Fort Knox in Kentucky. He then was moved to Fort Wainwright in Alaska, where soldiers continue their training and are readied for deployment to any areas in the world they are needed.
Finn was deployed first to Iraq and then to Afghanistan in April 2011. After he was hit with the IED in December, he was taken to Kandahar, where he was first operated on, and then was flown to Germany. Finn’s close family ties influenced where he went after leaving Germany.
“Mama has been there for me my entire life,” Finn said. “They were going to send me to Seattle at first, and then the Chaplin saw that I was upset. They then decided to sent me to Fort Gordon in Augusta so that I could be closer to my family.”
Throughout Finn’s many months of surgeries and rehabilitation, Sharon Cook, Finn’s mother, has been at her son’s side as much as she could. Being stationed in Augusta also gave Finn opportunities to travel back to LaGrange more often, which kept him closer to his family and friends.
In early April 2012, Finn was home in LaGrange visiting his family. At that time Finn still had his lower left leg and foot in a cast but knew that it was still not healing and that he was going to have it amputated later on in that month. With his right foot also still giving him trouble, Finn was dependent on his wheelchair.
Now after the operation, being fitted with a prosthetic and much physical therapy, the young man has changed.
“I was really shocked when he got out of the car and he wasn’t using his crutches,” Cook said, recalling one of her son’s most recent visits. “This weekend, I haven’t even seen his wheelchair yet.”
Finn still does have a wheelchair but uses it more now for recreation and for times that he is really tired.
“I play wheelchair basketball and work out in it. I am waiting for my new chair, it is made out of titanium and it will be a faster model,” Finn said.
In one of his recent basketball matches, his team came in second out of four teams.
Although Finn is still dealing with complications from his right foot, he is optimistic about his future. While stationed at Fort Gordon, Finn is looking forward to going to school for photography, continuing to get stronger and spending quality time with the family who has always been a source of strength and comfort to him.
In spite of everything he has gone through, Finn’s smile and eyes reflect the depth of his inner spirit and the love he has for his family and country.