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Santa Rosa man wounded in Afghanistan blast


Stefan LeRoy follows the Eagle Scout's maxim to always be prepared, but that only goes so far in war, when in an instant everything you thought you knew can change.

It might have been different had the 21-year-old Santa Rosa man followed the advice of his family and friends to stay in college, graduate and go into the Army as an officer.

But LeRoy felt he was prepared for anything, including in that moment when the world exploded around him and he rushed in to help.

The Army private first class was on patrol June 7 with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan's Kandahar province when explosions rocked the earth.

Among those injured in the initial blasts was a young father from Georgia who LeRoy noticed was being carried on a stretcher to a waiting helicopter. LeRoy did what came naturally to him and rushed to help, not thinking about where he was stepping.

"You're not going to stop doing something because there might be an IED (improvised explosive device) out there," he said. "You have to do what you have to do to help your buddies."

He remembers grabbing the stretcher and stepping over a body, and the explosion that followed when his foot hit the ground again.

"I could tell my legs were pretty much gone," he said.

LeRoy spoke by phone this week from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he is undergoing a painful recovery from his injuries. In addition to both of his legs being partially amputated, the 2009 Maria Carrillo High School graduate has a fractured arm and an eye injury. He also lost a small part of one finger.

His father, Mike, mother, Kathy, and twin brother, Ben, are at the hospital with him, having been summoned there by a series of phone calls that every parent of an active-duty soldier dreads.

Mike LeRoy, an independent computer programmer, said he was at the family's Rincon Valley home doing laundry June 7 when a caller informed him that his son had been taken to a hospital in Afghanistan with unknown injuries.

He drove to Meadow View Elementary School where his wife, a teacher, was packing up her classroom for the start of summer break. He could not bring himself to say anything until the pair got home.

It was another 12 hours before the family was informed that Stefan LeRoy was being flown to Germany and that his "legs had been blown off."

"At that point it was relief," Mike LeRoy said. "After the first call, you sit there overnight with all of the possible things that could go wrong way over there. It was nice to hear that he was alive."

Friends and family of the LeRoys, who are well-known in Sonoma County's scouting community, are rallying around them in what everyone expects will be a difficult recuperation for the young soldier.

"Everyone is still in shock. It just hits so close to home," said Terri Forrest, who is an assistant scoutmaster with Troop 32 of the Redwood Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America and has known Stefan and Ben LeRoy since they started as Tiger Cubs in the first grade. "It just hits so close to home."

Stefan LeRoy was 15 when he attained scouting's highest rank in 2006. But he waited another eight months until after his brother had earned the same honor before they had a ceremony to celebrate the achievement.

"That's just the kind of kid he is," said Forrest, who also sponsored Stefan LeRoy's sacrament of confirmation at Santa Rosa's Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Like everyone else, Forrest is concerned about LeRoy's long-term recovery and how he will cope with not having legs. He has to wait until his broken arm heals before he can begin using a wheelchair and he's on medication for pain.

Still, he feels the odd sensation of pain where his legs no longer exist. It's a complete change from how his life used to be only two weeks ago. But he expressed hope for his situation.

"Yeah, I'm in a hospital, and I'm in pain," LeRoy said. "That doesn't mean anything negative is going to happen. I'm going to have to work hard. I'm going to have to try hard. But then I'm going to get better and I'm going to see my friends."

He is in many ways lucky to be alive.

LeRoy had been in Afghanistan for four months when he was sent out on patrol that Thursday morning with about 30 other soldiers.

He said his platoon had received intelligence that insurgents may have embedded explosive devices in the vicinity where they were sent. But that advance knowledge was not enough to prevent three accidental detonations.

LeRoy said he was helping with the platoon's radio communications at the time of the initial blasts. He then jumped into action to help carry one of the wounded to a waiting helicopter.

LeRoy said that after he stepped on the IED and it exploded, he was virtually blinded by smoke and because his eyeglasses were shattered. Bleeding profusely, he called out for someone to retrieve tourniquets from his pack and to apply them to his mangled legs. His pleas were answered by fellow soldiers, who grabbed him by his body armor and hauled him to the helicopter.

He was flown to Germany and then to Walter Reed, where at least one other injured member of his platoon also is recovering from injuries sustained in the June 7 blasts.

Mike LeRoy described watching buses arrive at the hospital this week to unload more wounded. Asked whether he believes the fighting is worth the sacrifices these men and women, including his son, are making, he replied, "That's a hard one to think of. I just wish they could all come home so that nobody else has to do the same kind of thing."

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have sustained 2,016 fatalities since 2001, along with 15,322 wounded, according to the website iCasualties.

Army Pfc. Brandon Goodine, the wounded soldier who Stefan LeRoy rushed to help load on a helicopter, died as a result of the injuries he sustained from an IED. The 20-year-old Georgia man left behind a wife and young daughter.

LeRoy's journey promises to be a challenging one along a much different path than what he envisioned when he enlisted with the Army.

His brother is taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College while his older sister, Megan, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on June 10 with a degree in civil engineering.

Stefan LeRoy was on the same track after he graduated from Maria Carrillo in 2009 and enrolled at Cal Poly, where he took classes in civil engineering and became involved with the the Fighting Mustang Battalion, the school's ROTC program.

He had yet to finish his freshman year when he decided to leave Cal Poly and enlist in the Army. "It's just something I really wanted to do," he said from his hospital bed.

His sister said he may have been inspired by family members who served in the military and his former scout troop leader, Cort Daggett, a retired lieutenant colonel who flew helicopters for the Army.

LeRoy's family and friends tried to talk him into waiting until after he earned his college degree.

"We tried to convince him that he should stay in school and become an officer," Forrest said. "But he was ready. I just felt we had to stand by his decision, as hard as it was for his family."

The focus now is on helping LeRoy with his recovery. His family was heartened by a doctor's assessment that he will one day be able to go hiking and backpacking again with the use of prosthetics.

The family has created a web site, caringbridge.org/visit/StefanLeRoy, to chronicle his progress.

Mike LeRoy said the Army is paying for his son's medical care and for a few family members to stay at a hotel near Walter Reed so that they can be with him.

A trust fund in Stefan LeRoy's name has been established at Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa to help the family with any additional expenses.

The Redwood Empire branch of the Boy Scouts also is planning fundraisers and other ways of helping the family once their needs are better known, said Herb Williams, the organization's president.

Megan LeRoy will relieve other members of her family at Walter Reed on July 1 and stay with her brother for two weeks, until she starts a new job in Sacramento.

"I'm sure Stefan will grow from this situation. He's a tough cookie," she said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.)