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Special Operations Sniper Lost a Leg in Combat, But It Only Spurred Him On

Brad Halling fought to remain in uniform, paving the way for others

spinner image Brad Halling stands in a field.
Brad Halling helped pave the way for above-the-knee amputees to remain on active duty.
William Crooks

When Brad Halling, a Special Operations sniper, lost his leg above the knee in combat he was determined it would not stop him serving his country.

On Oct. 3, 1993, Halling was a Sgt. 1st Class caught in the thick of the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia that was later made famous by the Mark Bowden book and Ridley Scott movie “Black Hawk Down.” Over the course of the 18-hour battle, 18 Americans were killed and 73 injured.

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With troops fighting for their lives on the ground, Halling and fellow snipers Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart were tasked to kill the enemy from a Black Hawk helicopter, Super Six Two.

When the Black Hawk’s crew chief was shot through the arm, Halling had to take over manning the helicopter’s minigun. The two other Black Hawks, Super Six One and Super Six Four, were shot down, leaving their crews injured and surrounded by a murderous mob of Somali fighters.

In this desperate situation, Gordon and Shughart volunteered to be put on the ground to assist. Twice their request was denied. On the third time, they were granted permission but there was too much ground fire for the pilot to land. Instead, Gordon and Shughart fast-roped down into the chaos.

An RPG round slammed through the floor of Super Six Two, slicing off Halling’s left leg. Gordon, 33, and Shughart, 35, killed more than two dozen enemy fighters, saving the life of pilot Mike Durant, but were eventually overwhelmed and shot dead. Both were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Halling used a crewmate’s belt and a large screwdriver as an improvised tourniquet, staunching the bleeding. When the doctor told him that his leg might have to be amputated, Halling gestured to another soldier lying next to him and said: “Doc, don’t worry about me. You’ve got to take care of my buddy.” The other soldier, hit in the hip by an RPG, died two hours later.

Despite the loss of his leg, Halling was determined to stay in the U.S. Army. Asked during his treatment at Walter Reed hospital what his goals were. He replied, “Well, my goals are to run again, probably swim again, and get back to airborne status.”

The medic cut Halling off and said: “You need to understand you’re an above-the-knee amputee now, you’re not doing any of that.”

In an interview with AARP Veteran Report, Halling recalled: “That just drove me crazy.”

The elite warrior went back to his unit determined to return to normal life. A year and a half later, he was running, swimming, climbing and downhill skiing again, and had indeed returned to airborne status.

“I did rehab and just kind of hid out, really,” Halling said. “After about two and a half or three years, someone asked, ‘How’s that guy staying on active duty?’”

At the time, the Army didn’t allow above-knee amputees to continue serving. But that didn’t stop Halling. He appealed the decision that he was unfit for service, and his case reached Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whom Halling had met after the Battle of Mogadishu.

“He was on the way to Normandy for an anniversary of D-Day and held his plane, talked to his attorneys and wanted to make sure that it was in fact OK for him to endorse me to remain on active duty,” Halling recalled.

The reversal of the discharge decision set a precedent that enables amputees to keep serving under what is now known today as the Continuation of Active Duty program.

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Halling eventually retired in 2000 with the rank of sergeant major and 20 years of service under his belt.

“Going back into the job as an amputee provided all kinds of new challenges and I was enjoying it as much or more because I had to work so much harder all over again to continue down the road that I was going,” he said. “I loved the job. I loved what I was doing. I love being part of a team bigger than me.”

He became a SCUBA trainer and gained a graduate certificate in prosthetics. “So, not only as the user, I know what goes into them to build them, to fit someone, and it’s nice for me to tell others the full process,” he said.

“Not only as the patient, but exactly what happens in technical terms, and the products out there and how they work and how they can use them.”

After his retirement, Halling was interning at a prosthetic facility in Long Island, New York, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks prompted him to return to military service.

“I called and asked if there was any work because I wanted to be a part of whatever was going to occur,” he explained.

A year later he found himself back at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty), where he has been working as a training contractor ever since. He and his wife Jessica, a retired Army colonel, are now building a whiskey distillery

Every year on Oct. 3, Halling goes running in honor of Gordon, Shughart and his other fallen comrades. “I run not because I love running,” he explained recently. “I run because those guys didn’t come back. They can’t run.”

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