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1st Lt. Frank Washburn wrestles with Sgt. Orlando Gill at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday.

1st Lt. Frank Washburn wrestles with Sgt. Orlando Gill at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

1st Lt. Frank Washburn wrestles with Sgt. Orlando Gill at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday.

1st Lt. Frank Washburn wrestles with Sgt. Orlando Gill at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Eric Hankins watches Staff Sgt. John McHugh, an instructor with the Modern Army Combatives Program, wrestle with Sgt. Orlando Gill.

Staff Sgt. Eric Hankins watches Staff Sgt. John McHugh, an instructor with the Modern Army Combatives Program, wrestle with Sgt. Orlando Gill. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

Staff Sgt. John McHugh, right, explains a technique to Sgt. Orlando Gill, top, and 1st Lt. Frank Washburn.

Staff Sgt. John McHugh, right, explains a technique to Sgt. Orlando Gill, top, and 1st Lt. Frank Washburn. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

Sgt. Orlando Gill, bottom, and 1st Lt. Frank Washburn work on their technique.

Sgt. Orlando Gill, bottom, and 1st Lt. Frank Washburn work on their technique. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Eric Hankins, left, and Staff Sgt. John McHugh demonstrate a technique as 1st Lt. Frank Washburn looks on.

Staff Sgt. Eric Hankins, left, and Staff Sgt. John McHugh demonstrate a technique as 1st Lt. Frank Washburn looks on. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

WASHINGTON — Sgt. Orlando Gill’s prosthetic leg didn’t give him any problems in his latest rehabilitation session, but the trainers’ punches to his head did.

The 11-year soldier without a lower right leg had no trouble keeping his balance until the first smack to his face.

After a few quick moves he broke past the punches and grappled his opponent into submission, earning a few words of praise and a moment’s rest.

“That wasn’t too bad,” he said, sitting dazed on the floor.

“He didn’t get me too bad. But that’s gonna feel good in the morning.”

Trainers from the Modern Army Combatives Program at Fort Knox are in the middle of a two-week session at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, wrestling and sparring with wounded patients to teach them advanced fighting techniques.

“These guys are as good as any students we have,” said Jason Keaton, a civilian instructor with the program.

“It’s generally easier for guys missing a hand or an arm, because so much of close combat is in the hips and legs … I used to wrestle competitively with a guy missing a leg. So these guys can do anything.”

So despite the patients’ injuries, Keaton and his team twisted and tossed their students as if they were training for full combat tomorrow.

After an hour of submission holds, 1st Lt. Frank Washburn was exhausted and happy.

The 41-year-old already has returned to active status with his New York Army Reserve unit, but has been a regular visitor at Walter Reed since losing half of his left foot to a roadside bomb in Iraq last summer.

“Guys over there are using this, and I’d like to get back there,” he said. “I spent about six months there, but I feel like I got knocked out early. And it feels good to be using my foot, stretching out the muscles sewn up in there.”

Capt. David Rozelle, who works with amputees at Walter Reed, said so far 25 amputee soldiers have returned to active duty after recovery.

Rozelle was the first.

He lost his right foot in Iraq in June 2003, but returned to the country for another tour of duty earlier this year.

“These kind of programs are designed to build confidence in the guys, to let them prove to themselves they can still do the same kind of physical training and combat training,” he said.

Gill said he hopes to be the 26th to return to active duty.

He has a medical review in May, and if he passes physical requirements he could return to his unit, the 217th Field Artillery Battalion.

But for now he is working towards becoming a physical therapist for the military.

On Friday he became the first patient at the hospital to be certified as a basic instructor in the close quarters combat skills, after withstanding another series of haymakers from the instructors.

The trainers said they hope to certify more troops at the hospital this week, not only to help more servicemembers in their recovery but also so they can leave behind instructors to work with future patients at the hospital.


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