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Airman returns to flying status after having part of leg amputated

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Senior Airman Justus Bosquez is a pioneer and an inspiration, but not in an obvious way. When he walks down a narrow hallway in his Airman Battle Uniform, he looks no different than his peers. Like many of them, he can do salsa, merengue and two-step dances. He can run a marathon wearing a 30-pound rucksack and he can perform his flying duties on an E-3 Sentry. The difference is he doesn't take those tasks for granted, not since his left calf and foot were amputated.

Airman Bosquez lost his leg and foot in June 2011 following a hit-and-run crash caused when a vehicle traveling 80 mph on a city street rear-ended his motorcycle. After 11 surgeries, including two amputations, two months in the hospital and six months of intense rehabilitation, he returned to work almost a year later, but not to flying duties. For that, he waited 10 more months as medical board waivers, clearances and approvals were made. He received his medical clearance to fly earlier this month and went on his first flight March 25. He is most likely the first E-3 air surveillance technician and AWACS member to fly as an amputee. The records only go back as far as the early 2000s, officials said.

"It's like a finish line for me, and a starting point, too, as I'm a productive member of the Air Force -- going to fly, fight and win, as they say," said Airman Bosquez, 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron E-3 Air Surveillance technician. "It was fun and the most exciting part was when the wheels were going up in the wheel well and I knew we were really flying. It was a good mission. Hopefully next week I can go up again."

The accident happened on a Monday night, just before midnight. Airman Bosquez had been hanging out with friends and purposely left early to avoid the alcohol-impaired drivers who would be leaving bars at closing time. He drove south on Rockwell Avenue in Oklahoma City toward Interstate 40 when he was hit and thrown from the motorcycle.

"I was pretty much in the air and basically saying, 'God save me' and the second thing was I knew I had to relax," said Airman Bosquez, 25. "When I landed, I was pretty angry because I was by myself and I had to make a tourniquet for my own leg and call the cops."

When he arrived at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City, a doctor touched the Airman's foot and asked him, "Can you feel this?"

"Everything in my body and mind was trying to say, 'Yes, I can.' But, when I said, 'I feel something,' the doctor said he wasn't touching me," Airman Bosquez said. "Awesome."

The doctor then told him there was only a 10 percent chance of saving the leg and foot. Out of those odds, there was only a 1 in 5 chance that they would be as functional as they were before the accident. Airman Bosquez gave the doctor permission to amputate the limbs.

"The next morning was surreal because I woke up to fluorescent lights and realized it wasn't a dream," he said. "Then I pulled back the covers and it was really gone."

In the next two months, Airman Bosquez endured 10 more surgeries - one to reconstruct the bones and nine to clean out the area. Following the operations, the Airman spent 30 days in occupational therapy at the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital at Integris Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

When he left Jim Thorpe, Airman Bosquez went to The Center for the Intrepid, a Wounded Warriors program in San Antonio. For six months, he faced intensive rehabilitation.

"That was probably my saving grace right there, because they were no joke when it comes to doing all the exercises," he said. "They started by telling me they weren't going to feel sorry for me and I was going to do the exercises. I said, 'Ok, cool; awesome.' They weren't going to pity me and that's the last thing I wanted from anyone.

"I never really felt sorry for myself. Whenever people tell me I 'can't' do something, it makes me want to do something. I'm always a happy person and look at the brighter things because I know it could be worse," Airman Bosquez said. "I probably shouldn't be alive today based on the way that accident went, but I'm here, so obviously I'm here for something."

Airman Bosquez' s treatment began with walking, followed by jogging, swimming, core exercises, weights and rebuilding his muscle. In the hospital, he said he had lost 65 pounds. He graduated the program when he completed a marathon through mountains in Mexico carrying a 30-ruck sack.

"I think he's accomplished more than anyone could ever have accomplished in their dreams. He's so inspirational and shows people to never give up on life no matter how bad it gets," said Senior Airman James Brown, good friend and 965th AACS Airborne Surveillance technician. "When he sets his mind on something, he will get it done because he has so much drive and determination."

When Airman Bosquez returned to work in April 2012, he was determined to make his first day back like any previous day had been. Conscious of how he walked and held himself, he did his best to blend in.

But, that's not to say he didn't stand out. Since returning to work, he's gained the respect of many Airmen in his unit.

"He's inspirational and resilient," said Master Sgt. Stephen Stencel, 965th AACS first sergeant. "He has a really positive attitude for what he's been through and the fact that he's back on flying status and he has to maintain the same physical training standards as the rest of the Air Force is amazing."

Longtime friend and peer, Staff Sgt. Efrem Allen said when he learned about Airman Bosquez's amputation, he was shocked and pleasantly surprised by the Airman's attitude.

"I knew that Justus was a strong person, but the accident seemed to bring the best out of him. I honestly do not know one other person that could've bounced back as well as him, including myself," said Sergeant Allen, 965th AACS Senior Surveillance technician. "His generally upbeat demeanor never changed and not only is he walking again, but I've seen him outrun numerous people at PT. His hard work not only allowed him to stay active duty, but he's also returning to flying status. He is truly an inspiration."

Humbled by the kind words he often hears, the Airman said he's not trying to be anything more than he already is. When he's not at work, the Austin-native is pursuing a bachelor's degree from Rose State College, working out or spending time with friends or his dogs. He said he still enjoys sports including scuba diving, snowboarding and hunting.

"I am who I am and people will see what they want to see," he said.