At the start of Veterans Day weekend in 2012, Army Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Bruns was loading the bed of his Toyota pickup in his Fayetteville, N.C. driveway. It was 9:30 a.m., and the sun was out.
Bruns was going fishing.
Moments later, both his femurs were shattered and the 41-year-old could smell his flesh burning on the engine block of a sedan that had swerved off the street and pinned him between its hood and the rear bumper of his truck.
The force of the impact pushed him 80 feet into his front yard and bent the back of his Toyota into a crooked A.
The driver who hit him was drunk and high, and Bruns, a soldier for 22 years and a veteran of two wars, was bleeding out just a few yards from his front door.
But Bruns lived. The impact and pressure from the sedan acted like a tourniquet of sorts and partially stopped the bleeding. That and the voice of Jenny, his wife, shouting above the fire department’s hydraulic tools kept him awake.
“It looked like he should have been dead,” Jenny Bruns said. “Blood was flowing down the street and into the gutter… It was horrific.”
Now, almost three years later, Bruns walked his first 5K in Baltimore on Saturday to raise awareness about the costs of drunk driving.
A Minnesota native, Bruns joined the Army in 1991 after watching Iraq invade Kuwait at the start of the Gulf War. He was 20, and the same year he enlisted he also married his high school sweetheart — Jenny.
“It was love at first sight,” she said.
Shortly after their marriage, their son was born. Drake Bruns, now 24, is learning to be an EMT.
Bruns bounced around the Army as a paratrooper, spending the majority of his time at Fort Bragg, N.C. In 2004 he transferred to Army Special Operations where he served in Civil Affairs. All told, on the day he was hit, he had been on nine deployments, three to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.
“I spent plenty of time in war zones … not a scratch,” Bruns said in an interview at the couple’s apartment overlooking Nationals Park. “And I almost died in my front yard.”
Bruns lost both his legs above the knee as well as his right thumb and pointer finger. After a few days at a local hospital and about a week at Duke University Medical Center, where they amputated his legs, he was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
The woman who struck him, Rhonda Bryant, was sent to prison 17 months after the incident and served 16 months. Bryant was released last month, according to Bruns.
At Walter Reed, Bruns spent a little over two years rehabilitating and learning to walk again. It was tougher for him because of his age, he explained. The guys in rehab were mostly in their 20s. Their frames, broken from bomb blasts or gunshots, had an easier time adjusting to the pressure of prosthetic limbs.
“Most people assumed I was blown up,” he said. “At first it was tougher because you’re surrounded by guys who gave their appendages for their country and you don’t want to take anything away from them, but you’re essentially in the same situation.”
Bruns finally left Walter Reed in March 2015 and has spent the past few months getting used to his prosthetics.
“Two prosthetics is a lot physically, and I’m trying to gain that technical skill before I become an old man,” he said.
Now lean and graying, Bruns walks around his apartment without a cane and with relative ease — something that younger double amputees sometimes have difficulty doing.
Though the couple seems settled, the transition has been tough for them. Bruns had planned to make his career in the Army, and though the military offered him a waiver to stay in, the last thing he wanted to do was “sit in a cubicle and write policy papers.” As a high-ranking enlisted man, he also didn’t want be in charge of men and women whom he couldn’t match in physical capability.
Just before leaving Walter Reed and a few weeks shy of his 24-year mark, Bruns left the Army.
“I never wanted him to retire,” said Jenny Bruns. “When he hit 20 years, I congratulated him on making it half-way.”
Bruns, who’s been an Army spouse for a majority of her life, has been adjusting too. She had made a home in North Carolina, and after her husband was injured all of that had to be left behind.
“It’s been three years, and I’m still struggling,” she said. “I lost my life, I lost my house… I’m still not recovered emotionally.”
The Baltimore event, called Walk Like MADD, is just one of thousands held around the country to raise awareness of the damage caused by drunk driving. According to the Baltimore event’s Web site, the walk has already raised more than $80,000 dollars.
“I want to remind people there are consequences to driving drunk,” said Bruns. “You hate to see all that pain and suffering based off of one person’s poor choices.”
The 5K walk is the longest distance Bruns has attempted since he was injured. Without the use of his knees, the prosthetics will severely bruise what he has left of his legs.
“This is going to take a toll,” said Jenny Bruns, “His body is going to be thrashed.”
Bruns said he wants to do future events but with new running prosthetics; and if he does, he said, it might be a jog instead of a walk.