Growing up in Zephyr Hills, Florida, Tyler Jeffries seemed to be on a fast track to living every young boy’s dream. With the ability to throw an 87-mile-per-hour fastball in high school, Tyler had a promising college baseball career in front of him. A spot on a major league team seemed well within reach.
Then he tore his UCL in his elbow—his ulnar collateral ligament. The injury was devastating to his baseball dreams. He had to start thinking about alternatives.
“The main thing that made me want to join [the Army] was, I wanted a career, a sense of pride,” Tyler says. “My brother was in the Air Force, my dad was in the Navy. I wanted to do infantry. My mom didn’t really like the idea, but she understood.”
Tyler enlisted in January 2010 when his assigned unit—Attack Company 2-1 Infantry Battalion stationed out of Ft. Lewis, Washington—was just getting back from deployment. As a result, Tyler spent the next year and a half training … and waiting, anxious to deploy.
Tyler finally deployed in April 2012 and found himself in the small village of Makuan in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.
“We were on a small base, maybe about 30 people or so, and every day was exciting,” says the self-described adrenaline junkie. “We were getting shot at, we were getting attacked, we’d go on patrols looking for the bad guys—the blood was pumping.”
On October 6, 2012, about six months into his deployment, Tyler’s life changed forever.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget. We left on patrol at 6 a.m. and came across an abandoned compound. We started setting up guys, where we wanted our gun teams, that sort of thing. I take a step. I take another step. Next thing I know, I’m laying on the ground and it’s about 10 seconds later.”
“I stepped on a command wire IED [improvised explosive device],” Tyler continues. “Somebody was watching me the whole time, waiting for me to get to the spot to blow me up. I was thrown through the air about 15 feet. My legs were gone.”
“It took 50 minutes for the helicopter to come get me,” Tyler recalls. “I was awake the whole time, and I was trying to stay as calm as possible and let the guys do what they had to do. The guy that actually saved my life, Chris Cunningham, was my best friend—it was his fourth deployment. After the explosion, he was the first person to get to me and start working on stopping my bleeding and putting on tourniquets.”
From Makuan, Tyler was taken to Kandahar Air Field for about a day, after which he was flown to Germany for stabilizing surgery and then on to the U.S. where he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on October 9.
“I had close to 30 surgeries,” Tyler says. “The last one was on November 20, 2012. It took me about a month and a half to take my first steps. They were tough. For the most part, I was confined to my wheelchair for about 8 months; I gained 30 pounds just sitting in a wheelchair.”
America’s Fund provided Tyler and his family with a variety of grants, including remodeling his mom’s home to make it accessible, travel grants so Tyler and his family could be together during his recovery and an Action TrackChair all-terrain wheelchair.
“There’s no better organization that helps wounded warriors than America’s Fund,” Tyler says without hesitation. “A lot of us wounded warriors wouldn’t be where we are today without America’s Fund.”
The America’s Fund also provided Tyler with a special harness for Apollo, his 145-pound European red Doberman.
“He’s a certified service dog,” Tyler says. “I met Brandon McMillan, the host of ‘Lucky Dog’ on CBS and of 2013 Shark Week, and he volunteered his time and trained Apollo for about six months. Apollo is like my arm rail; I can lean on him, and he picks anything I need off the ground and hands it to me.”
While Tyler has been through a heart-wrenching struggle, he remains incredibly optimistic and is making plans for the future.
“As soon as I get out of the Army, I want to go to gunsmith school, open up a shooting range and fix weapons on the side,” he says. “This whole experience? Coming from a soldier’s standpoint, it’s just another obstacle, and there’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome.”
“My favorite quote of all time is something Brandon said to me, he said, ‘Tyler, one day your life’s gonna flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.’ I’m going to do exactly that.”