Warrior Helps Rid World of Landmines

Photo: Retired Green Beret Ryan Hendrickson has made it his mission to find and dispose of landmines. His nonprofit organization is dedicated to “saving limbs and lives.”

By Steve Bornhoft 

Think first about strapping a couple of large bags of Sakrete onto your back. Thus loaded down, would you even be able to keep your feet? What if you were called upon to traverse a steep rise to a mountain peak? For how long might you be able to progress uphill?

Then consider what that challenge would be like if you had only one good leg, the other one having been reattached and salvaged with dozens of surgeries after it was shredded by an untended bomb in Afghanistan.

Ryan Hendrickson, back from the near dead, skin grafts tentatively clinging to his refashioned lower right leg and foot, jumped at the chance to push himself that way, to again invite circumstances in which he would have to override his mind when it told him to quit.

Hendrickson had a history of conquering long odds.

He was an ammunition specialist in the Air Force and hungry for a new challenge when he took advantage of a program that enabled him to “Go from Blue to Green” and try to qualify as a Green Beret. He joined a Selection Class of 400 men. Twenty-three would rise to the top and make it. Hendrickson, at age 31, was one of them.

He would deploy to Afghanistan as an 18C, an engineer specializing in counter IED (improvised explosive devices) operations. In that role, it would be up to him to steer fellow war fighters away from buried trouble.

Trouble would find him.

While participating in 2010 with a team working to roust Taliban from a strategically significant position, Hendrickson went to retrieve an Afghan translator who had strayed into an uncleared area. He stepped on an IED.

The translator was uninjured, but Hendrickson’s wounds were life threatening. His right foot had nearly been blown off. Pearly white bones protruded from his leg.

Hendrickson, who lives near the community of Pace in Northwest Florida, recounts the trauma and triumphs of his military career in his book, Tip of the Spear: The Incredible Story on an Injured Green Beret’s Return to Battle (Center Street, 2020). It is at once harrowing and inspirational. It triggers anger and admiration.

At Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, surgeon Jospeh Hsu determined that there was sufficient tissue to attempt limb salvage surgery. He estimated the chance of success at 10-15%, but added, “If this works, we will rewrite limb salvage surgery.”

Hendrickson and his doctors authored a rewrite, not that he was content with that. His undying desire was to return to the front. The Army wanted to medically retire him, but he carried on and obtained a signature on a medical waiver.

Returned to Afghanistan in 2012, his triumphs including the scaling of Hilltop 2000, which was secured as a lookout point for command personnel. He completed additional tours in Afghanistan in 2016, 2017 and 2018-19.

In 2016, he survived an intense firefight during an operation to capture a Taliban encampment in Baghlan Province. In the midst of that battle, he sustained a concussive brain injury when U.S. air support dropped a 500-pound bomb so close to Hendrickson that it rained debris on him. He performed heroically in retrieving the body of a fallen Afghan commando.

In recognition, he was awarded the Silver Star and the First Special Service Force’s Major General Robert T. Frederick Award, which is presented annually to one U.S. and one Canadian soldier.    

“Was it my insane sense of pride in serving my country that brought me back?” Hendrickson writes. “The special camaraderie I shared with my brothers that can be forged only in war? The thrill of battle, testing myself, that adrenaline high that can only be found in combat?”

Hendrickson concludes that all were factors in his returns.

Today, Hendrickson is the owner of a nonprofit, Tip of the Spear Landmine Removal. He was inspired to establish the organization following a trip to Ukraine in March 2022, shortly after Russian forces invaded the country. That trip refamiliarized him with the dangers posed by mines and other explosive hazards.   

In August 2022, Hendrickson returned to Ukraine and spent the month removing landmines in eastern regions of the country. Today, Tip of the Spear Landmine Removal is available to work in any country worldwide that requests assistance.

As another participant in demining efforts, Tip of the Spear is joined by ArroTech, developers of a mine-detecting drone, and AltruTek, a nonprofit that leads an alliance of companies in rapidly conducting mine detection and mapping activities in Ukraine.

Discover more about ArroTech’s state-of-the-art metal-detecting drone at arrotech.com. Learn more about the mission and activities of AltruTek at altrutek.org.

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