May 7, 2016
"The injury wasn't the hardest part; it was being taken away from Afghanistan before she was supposed to. There wasn't the transition time of, 'OK, I'm going home now, I'm ready, I've finished my job.' Now her job was just to lay in a bed. She's a go-getter. She can't just lay there. That's just not how she lives."THE EARTH MOVED under her feet. That is Lauren Montoya's memory of war -- a constant rumble from the ground on up. Every sound, human or otherwise, was guttural, and she always had this sixth and seventh sense that someone was watching her, trying to kill her. For most of her stay in Afghanistan, she was a gunner stationed in an armored truck, her finger on the trigger of a 50-caliber machine gun, her job to have four eyes in the back of her head. There was no mental break allowed. The stress of it all was supposed to be trained out of her at boot camp, but that's only in theory. The reality was that Montoya's insides were always rumbling along with the earth. Until nighttime came.
Gunners get to shut their eyes, too. Montoya would slip into her sleeping bag each night at 3 a.m., in the middle of a Kandahar desert, and stare up at the stars. The sky seemed wider, brighter and more 3D in Afghanistan, almost mystical. The air felt fresher. She says maybe it was the juxtaposition between beauty and hate. But for whatever reason, the ground stopped moving for her at night. "We were in a war zone,'' she says. "There are enemy dudes watching us, and we can hear them over the radio. But it was probably one of the most peaceful and tranquil moments that I've ever had.''
All these months later, in San Antonio, Texas, that is the vision that keeps coming back to Lauren Montoya. Safe in her apartment, along with her wife, her daughter and her prosthetic, she lives for those Afghanistan nights. They are in her dreams and daydreams. They fuel her.
It is why she runs.
Soon enough, she received the news: The Army deemed her fit for duty. In other words, she was as qualified as any other able-bodied person to defend her country.
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