Dan Glanz Photo by Jack Looney
Southern Afghanistan, June 13, 2005
It was a hot, still morning in Lashkar Gah, a city in southern Afghanistan. U.S. Army Capt. Daniel J. Glanz needed to get to Kandahar to do some paperwork before the replacements for his unit arrived later that month. His second deployment to Afghanistan had already been extended by a month. The one-time ROTC student was eager to get back to the States and to the University of Virginia, where he was studying for a second undergraduate degree.
A convoy assembled: three armored Humvees and an unarmored Ford SUV. Glanz, a civil affairs officer, found that traveling in rented trucks and SUVs made for a less- threatening profile as he rode through the region checking the progress of the wells and schoolhouses that his unit was building, so he settled into the Ford’s front passenger seat.
“Strangely,” Glanz recalls, “I hardly ever wore my helmet. That day I decided to wear it—probably because everybody else in the truck had theirs on.”
The wave of an explosion swept their vehicle. Glanz remembers the noise it made above all else.
Nearly four hours later and just 30 minutes outside of Kandahar, the captain was chatting with the first sergeant behind the wheel. Relatively new in-country, the sergeant was asking about taxicabs—what did they look like and when should you be leery of them as potential threats?
In that moment, the wave of an explosion swept their vehicle. Glanz remembers the noise it made above all else. “It was a low-pitched sound, like somebody hit a gong right by my head, and that’s all I could hear for a while. I couldn’t see. I think that was from the concussion.”
Glanz guessed that the vehicle had struck an oncoming car. But as the dust cleared, it became apparent that the SUV had been attacked by a suicide bomber—driving a taxicab.
Badly wounded, Glanz’s thoughts focused across the globe to his longtime girlfriend, Laura Sharp, back home. “I decided that I was going to take the next breath, each next breath, because I wanted to get back and see her,” he says. “If I hadn’t had her to come back to, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Within a couple of days, Capt. Glanz—one of four soldiers hurt in the attack—was on a transport headed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with seven fractures and 100 stitches in his face, severe shrapnel wounds and nerve damage to his legs. His right arm had been amputated just below the elbow.
Central Virginia, March 11, 2006
It was a chilly, late-winter morning as the DeHavilland Twin Otter climbed the clear skies over Orange, Va., with a bellyful of eager skydivers. Capt. Daniel Glanz (Ret.) was surrounded by his best friends, who had been pointing him skyward since shortly after he arrived at Walter Reed. Laura waited on the ground, perhaps to ensure he would be intact at their upcoming wedding.
It was his first time up since returning to civilian life, and Glanz felt a nagging nervousness. As his friends joked to relieve his tension, he visualized the jump, making sure that everything he once did with his right hand, he could now do with his left. Already he had visited a wind tunnel in Florida to adjust to the altered aerodynamics of having a hook where his right hand once was. “I was more scared that something I didn’t think of was going to happen,” he recalls. He smiles. “And it did.”
The leap, the free fall, the sensation of floating on air that made the sport “the coolest thing in the world”—the experience was just like he remembered. The euphoria gave way to something else when his chute unfurled. His right arm wasn’t strong enough to pull on the steering toggle, making the descent frustratingly hard to control. After a few anxious moments, though, he managed to land safely.
Now the president of his local skydiving club, Glanz jumps almost every weekend and has an array of tricks learned from other amputee skydivers. As with most of his life, he’s making the most of second chances.
“A way back to normalcy”
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., Glanz arrived on Grounds in 1989 aiming to join the foreign service. The Army ROTC program seemed like a double bonus, a chance to gain some real-world experience while paying for college.
It didn’t quite work out as he expected. He did get a degree in foreign affairs, but his Army commission was as a reserve officer. He was placed on inactive reserve—basically, a name on a list. Four years later, he was assigned to an active reserve unit, which promoted him to weekend warrior. He found work as a legal assistant, but it wasn’t his life’s calling.
Glanz returned to his engineering studies with two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. Photo by Jack Looney
He realized that science and technology were his real passions, so in the fall of 2000, at age 28, Glanz returned to U.Va. as an undergraduate engineering student.
He quickly stood out, though not because he was clearly older than his classmates. “He’s just a brilliant fellow,” observes engineering professor Robert J. Ribando. Ranked at the top of his class two years into his aerospace engineering program, Glanz won a prestigious research grant to probe supersonic ramjet technologies, which could one day move cargo or passengers from coast to coast in under an hour.
Then the Army called.
With the Bush administration’s War on Terror a few months old, his civil affairs unit was being deployed. The engineering school put his grant on hold, and Glanz spent a year in Afghanistan. He squeezed in another year of school before being redeployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2004, doing the international development work that he had looked forward to in his ROTC days.
Most Afghans, weary from decades of war, welcomed American help in rebuilding their country, Glanz says, but that didn’t make his job easy. “They’ve been deprived of basic human necessities for so long that when something comes their way, they grab it,” he says. Getting them to trust that they have a future is the most pressing task.
And the rest? “Literally, less than 10 percent of the population has another agenda,” Glanz says. That was little comfort when the taxicab exploded.
Glanz saw a better side of Walter Reed Medical Center than what made headlines earlier this year. As an officer, he was nowhere near the infamous Building 18. “It was all top-notch,” he says. “I can’t say enough about the physical therapy and the occupational therapy. They work you hard, but they put me back together really fast.”
His girlfriend, Laura, was steady at his side. “She let me know right away that [being wounded] wasn’t going to change the way that she felt about me,” he says.
Another early caller was Professor Ribando, who’d seen a newspaper article on his former student. “I was drafted out of Princeton graduate school myself in 1968, so I felt a kind of comradeship with him,” he says.
Glanz was scheduled to take Ribando’s engineering class in air-breathing propulsion in the fall. “I figured that he probably needed something to occupy him between therapies,” Ribando says, “so I just asked him if he would like to take my class [through distance learning].”
“It meant a lot,” Glanz says. “It was a way back to normalcy.”
Glanz spent seven months learning how to use his new prosthetic arm. He underwent multiple surgeries to repair facial injuries and his burn-damaged right upper arm. Some ringing in his ears remains, but he has regained sensation in his nerve-damaged right leg. He knows it could be far worse; the closest he comes to grousing is to lament becoming a lefty: “Now I see why left-handed people are always complaining about a right-handed world.”
He made it back to U.Va. in spring 2006. He taught himself to take notes left-handed and resumed his research. He and Laura were married on June 10, 2006, not quite a year after the explosion.
Some students know that the older guy with the prosthetic arm was in the military, and that he was injured in the war, but most are too polite to inquire about it. There’s a generation gap there, and Glanz, 35, suspects they probably aren’t comfortable with the reality that he represents.
When Glanz sees ROTC cadets in uniform, it triggers “complicated” thoughts, he says. “I think it’s great that they want to join ROTC. I hope that they do it for the right reasons. I don’t think it’s my place to stop people on the street and question their motives. If anybody asked me, I’d tell them what I thought.”
He pauses; he’s not the type of guy to get on a soapbox.
“If you’re 100 percent committed to giving your life for your country, then by all means, I congratulate you,” says Glanz. “But if you’re not willing to, at a moment’s whim, lay down your life for your country—and more importantly as an officer, send another person to give their life for their country—then you shouldn’t be here.”
He pauses again. “I didn’t think of it that way, and I should have.”
His education finally complete, Capt. Daniel Glanz (Ret.) will again walk the Lawn, with Laura and his family and perhaps some skydiving buddies cheering him on. He’s got a job lined up with Aerojet, a space and defense contractor in Gainesville, Va.
He’s leapt from the plane and managed to survive a complicated fall. Now, finally, he’s landed on firm ground.
Ready to Serve
ROTC in wartime
Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and four years after the invasion of Iraq, interest in all three of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at U.Va.—Army, Navy and Air Force—remains robust.
The Navy ROTC, 78 students strong, had twice as many applicants as it had scholarships to hand out last fall. “We’re picking the cream of the crop,” says Navy Capt. Todd Miller. Army ROTC is in an expansion mode; with 67 cadets, enrollment is double what it was five years ago, and more growth is forecast, says Army Col. Jay Dymek. Even though the Air Force is reducing its ROTC ranks nationally, enrollment at U.Va. has remained steady for the past five years or so, says Air Force Col. Daniel Doty, who oversees 78 cadets.
With a steady drumbeat of casualty reports from Iraq, Dymek acknowledges it takes a special student to seek out a military career. “They know what’s going on in the world,” he says. “The first thing I tell anybody here is that if you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason, because it’s never going to be enough to make up for what the Army is asking you to give up. And they’re all saying, ‘Yes sir, I want to serve my country.’”
Students face postgraduation commitments ranging from four to 10 years. But no one goes from walking the Lawn one week to patrolling the streets of Baghdad the next; all must undergo additional schooling. Once deployed, Army personnel face the greatest risk, accounting for more than two-thirds of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq.
That statistic doesn’t faze Cadet Sean Mahar (Com ’07), who reports to Fort Bragg, N.C., in September for airborne and Ranger training, with hopes of being assigned to lead a unit next summer. “As an officer, the opportunity to serve the country, and to work with the American soldier, is an honor,” he says.