COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - United States Air Force Technical Sgt. Leonard Anderson knew every day in Afghanistan could have been his last. And one day nearly was.
"One day it was just your normal, regular, like every other day. Just like any other day we'd been out there," the Chester, SC native recalled. Anderson trained military working dogs to detect explosives.
"My dog, she was searching," he said of his partner, a Belgian Malinois named Azza. "Did what she was supposed to be doing to the best of her ability and basically showed me the behaviors that needed to be seen to slow down and stop where I was. And thank God I did because the IED actually went off about two feet in front of us."
Anderson lost his left hand in the explosion, most of his right hand, and, according to him, his legs were "pretty mangled."
He was taken to a burn unit in San Antonio, where he is stationed. He was expected to spend six months in the hospital. But his determination and hard work got him released in two-and-a-half months.
"When you go through something like that...it's human nature, you're going to get depressed. You're going to feel down and it's just a matter of how you respond to that. How quickly you come back from that," he said.
Keeping him company in the hospital and helping him heal was Azza, who also survived the explosion.
"Having that dog there, that had been through the same thing with me, you know, I'd kind of be looking down and she'd nudge my hand or lick me, that immediately sends you up and kind of pumps you up and gets you ready for the next -- the next battle, if you will."
Anderson returned to active duty to finish his military career. Although he never saw combat again, he has a new challenge: showing people that their physical limitations don't have to hold them back.
"It's the small battles that win the war," he said. "So you kind of learn you take everything step by step in small increments and get back to where you were."
Anderson plays on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, which spreads that message through exhibition play nationwide. Every member of the team is a veteran who has lost a limb.
"We want to show you that as long as you put the right foot in front of the other, you can do anything," he said. "The sky's the limit."
On November 20, Anderson and his teammates are playing against University of South Carolina softball team alumni and first responders in the Capital City Showdown. They were invited by the Midlands group, Fun 4 All, which organizes activities for people with disabilities.
Azza will be there, too. She retired from duty and now lives with Anderson.
You can meet Anderson this Saturday at The Loose Cockaboose on South Stadium Drive in Columbia during the South Carolina-Vanderbilt football game. The event raises donations to pay for the team's traveling expenses.
Animal Planet was filming a program on military working dogs the day of the explosion that injured Anderson and Azza. Click here to watch Glory Hounds.
Click here if you would like to donate or sponsor the Capital City Showdown.