Visitors to Bo Reichenbach’s two-bedroom suite in Bethesda, Md., must follow a strict set of rules: No tears, no sympathy.
The 24-year-old’s tough-as-nails attitude stems primarily from his training to become a U.S. Navy SEAL. He was trained to conduct some of the nation’s most critical missions at sea, on land and in the air.
It was the dream Reichenbach had as a 9-year-old. The dream materialized when he was 22. He lived it for two years.
It disintegrated on July 17 when Reichenbach’s SEAL team was on a mission in Afghanistan. Stepping on a makeshift bomb would forever alter the lives of two SEALs — one was Reichenbach.
Both of Reichenbach’s legs have been amputated above the knee. His left leg was blown off in the explosion. His right leg was peppered with shrapnel. As the tissue in that leg deteriorated, infection set in. To keep it from spreading, surgeons amputated that leg, too. His lower torso suffered significant burns and his young body bears the scars from shrapnel blasts.
His right arm was so severely injured there was a time he thought he might lose it, too. He has mobility in three of his five fingers. He has undergone nearly 20 surgeries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. He has suffered 40 percent hearing loss in one ear and 60 percent in the other.
One of his comrades also suffered shrapnel wounds and eye injuries so severe that his eyesight is jeopardized.
Reichenbach, the son of Crystal and Donald Reichenbach, of Billings, recalls everything about that day but won't dwell on the specifics. The SEALs “were fighting and it just happened,” he said.
“I don’t need people feeling sorry for me,” Reichenbach said in a telephone interview. “It’s real tough but it’s OK because it’s in the name of serving my country. I’m proud of what we did and proud we are in Afghanistan. I would do it all again.”
Reichenbach, the father of a 4-year-old son, Landon, grew up in the Lockwood area. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March 2008 and became a SEAL in May 2010.
When the accident happened, both Reichenbach and his parents were loathe to discuss it.
“I was scared at first,” Crystal said. “I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I was mad. That’s a motherly instinct. Why are we there? What are we doing? But I am proud of him. Just because I don’t understand it doesn’t make what Bo is doing is wrong. He’s a hero.”
Time has eased the shock and fear. They realize there is a greater good to be experienced from discussing it.
“Bo realizes the country needs to know what these men are doing for this country,” Crystal said.
Her son has been discharged from “constant care” at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to Building 62, which is the home of the Wounded Warrior Unit on the Walter Reed campus. The building provides housing for wounded warriors while they are receiving long-term outpatient care. Bo is expected to live there for the next year while he undergoes rehabilitation and learns to walk with prosthetic legs. He spends at least four hours in rehab each day and is making tremendous progress.
“He’s a fighter,” Crystal said. “He’s just fighting for different things now.”
Determined not to let the incident derail him, Reichenbach participated in the Ninth Annual Navy 5-Miler on Sept. 16 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He rode a custom-made hand bike and won first place.
“I’m excited about the new challenges I have ahead,” Reichenbach said. “I’m real positive about everything. If I would have sat around angry it would have just wasted time.”
His father, Don Reichenbach, owner of Reichenbach Construction, has moved to Bethesda to help care for his son.
To help defray medical and travel expenses and help customize Reichenbach’s vehicle and home, the Blue Star Mothers and American Legion Andrew Pearson Post 117, one of Billings' three American Legion posts, is hosting a benefit concert and barbecue at ZooMontana on Sept. 29.
Andrew Pearson Post 117 has an emphasis on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the issues they confront after returning home. Many of its members are on active duty.
George Blackard, post commander, said there is a grave misconception that the government steps in at times like this to pay for everything.
“The fact is, they don’t,” Blackard said. “We just want to give them a cushion to make things easier. We want to let Bo know that as a community, and as veterans, we support him and his family.”
Reichenbach is aware of the benefit and has asked his mother to represent him.
“I wish I could be there but it’s not really feasible right now,” Reichenbach said. “Just make sure everyone knows I’m proud to serve my country.”