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JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — More than five years after Bryan Wagner lost a leg in an explosion in Baghdad, the former Army specialist received the inches-thick armor that saved his life during a ceremony Wednesday at the Wounded Warriors Project in Jacksonville.
“I’m not usually at a loss of words,” Wagner said as he examined the olive-green rectangular plate with a silver dollar-sized hole. “I’m usually very verbose. But to see something that saved your life.”
The explosion occurred outside Baghdad on Dec. 17, 2007. He told the Florida Times-Union that the bomb exploded and a ball of copper hit him. He said he remembers seeing orange and other soldiers tried dousing the fire with their water bottles full of Crystal Light.
Wagner’s leg was amputated, and the other had three pieces of shrapnel. Recently, Army officials informed Wagner that a projectile capable of tearing through tanks hit his side. The armor stopped it, sparing his life.
The armor was analyzed by the Program Executive Office Soldier, which is tasked with evaluating and developing soldiers’ equipment.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Emmett Maunakea brought the armor to Wagner as a way of thanking him for his service.
“I’m here to return something to this young man,” Maunakea said, “and it reminds me why I’m in the Army today. From an old soldier, thank you for your service.”
Wagner is an assistant dean at the Wounded Warriors Project.
“He’s larger than life,” said Chris Rick, who leads the Wounded Warriors’ education program at Florida State College in Jacksonville. “He became a role model, not just for the warriors going through the program, with his successes and his resiliency.”