For many, that would be a fate worse than death; for Green Berets Billy Costello and Major Kent Solheim however, it was a turn to the next chapter of their lives.
On July 27th, 2007, 40 year-old North Carolina native Major Solheim was leading a night operation to capture an insurgent leader.
As his team descended from helicopters they came under fire. Solheim bounded around a street corner where confronted shot and killed an enemy fighter.
The insurgent, with his dying breath, shot Solheim with a machine gun leaving his left shoulder and his left knee with bullet wound each, and two through his right knee.
Major Kent Solheim came home and had his leg amputated below his knee per his wife’s request but after two years of hobbling around and working an Army desk job, Solheim went back in for his 30th surgery to have his leg amputated above the knee.
“For me, it was pretty easy. I had no qualms with it. I never even had a second thought about it,” Solheim said. “I’d almost done two years with a paralyzed leg, so to put on a prosthetic, for me it was kind of liberating.”
Approximately half a year later in 2009, Solheim left for his fifth deployment to Afghanistan for which he was promoted form a Captain to a Major.
On that deployment is where he met Billy Costello for the first time. Billy remembers it vividly…
Just before Solheim deployed, he and Costello took part in a parachute jump exercise. They had never met, so Costello didn’t notice the senior officer’s prosthetic leg until they climbed into a Navy vessel after jumping into the Atlantic.
“I got on the boat and I saw that he didn’t have a foot,” Costello said. “I was like, ‘Aw man, that guy ain’t go no leg.'”
Two years after that initial meeting, Solheim was in between deployments back in the states while Costello, who was now under his command, was overseas on deployment obtaining his own injury.
Costello and his team members were extracting roadside bombs in Kandahar Province.
“We’re just packing up to go. I was moving through an area that we had already cleared, and there was one that we didn’t find. It found me. I remember seeing a black cloud of smoke behind me, looking down and being like, ‘Yeah, my leg’s gone,’ then worrying about landing on my head, because I didn’t know how I was going to land,” Costello recalled.
“Everything slows down. I’m in the air, I’m flying, my leg’s gone. So I was reaching for my tourniquet. I knew I had to stop this thing.”
Costello lost his right leg below the knee and two fingers from his right hand were barely hanging on. Once back in the states, his right knee would have to be removed also.
Solheim became both a resource and an inspiration for Costello.
“He’d already been through it, so he was somebody I could look at, you know, whenever needed, to get through it and be a stud on the other side,” Costello said.
“I spent that 30 days I was in the hospital just researching prosthetics and finding out what I could get back to,” he said. “Just knowing that he’d gotten through it all and was still active duty, took over a command … It was almost like, ‘Oh, it’s not too big of a deal. I’m still alive. I still have the ability to get back to doing the things I love doing. Still gonna be able to kiss my wife and hug my kids at night.'”
Costello received his first prosthetic leg a little before the end of 2011.
“I was snowboarding by the end of January,” he said. “I was trying to break records, because [Solheim] left a legacy that I had to try to keep up.”
Now the two adventure seeking amputees do their best to record their adventures and visit fellow wounded warriors in an effort to show them that life does go on from there.