“Being outdoors with other veterans that have been through similar experiences really helps you heal and recover in ways being indoors and around technology can’t,”
For Leland Arledge, serving the public comes naturally. From his years in the military to now, as the founder of a veteran-based non-profit, he continues to spend his time and efforts helping those in need. However, it wasn’t that long ago that Leland was one of those in need.
Leland served in the Army as a cavalry scout for eight years, with two deployments in Afghanistan.
Modern-day cavalry scouts are known as the eyes and ears for the commander on the battlefield. Once a mounted force on horseback, they’re now a force to be reckoned with in armored combat vehicles.
In 2011, Leland was driving one of those combat vehicles, a Stryker Reconnaissance Vehicle (RV), when he was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED). Though an IED is defined as a “simple bomb,” this bomb’s damage was anything but simple.
Suddenly, Leland was slammed with the forces of 263 pounds of explosives. The motor of the Stryker RV came off the vehicle and hit the firewall, the part of the Stryker that separates the engine from the passenger, before crushing Leland’s right leg.
Within the blink of an eye, the impact put Leland in critical condition. Aside from his crushed leg, he was suffering from second and third-degree burns, traumatic brain injury, shrapnel wounds and cranial fractures. As the helicopter rushed to the nearest field hospital, he flatlined and was revived both mid-air and on land.
From there, it was touch and go, leading to a three-day medically-induced coma before he was transferred to San Antonio for recovery.
Though surgeons at the Fort Sam Houston military base tried to save his right leg, all attempts were unsuccessful, leading to a below-the-knee amputation in 2013.
For years, Leland struggled with ill-fitting prostheses and uncomfortable sockets. He explained that if the socket is too large or not the right shape, it won’t properly support his body weight, resulting in painful soft tissue irritation.
“It caused a lot of bruising, blood blisters and skin problems,” Leland said. “It’d cause my skin to break down, which then led to infections.”
After sifting and sorting through multiple painful sockets and prosthetics, Leland came to Snell Prosthetics & Orthotics in 2015, where he worked with owner Frank Snell, CPO, LPO, FAAOP and prosthetist Michael Lacy, BOCP, LPO.
Leland was one of the first Snell patients to utilize the Symphonie Aqua System for casting his socket available exclusively at Snell in Arkansas. This system allows water to equally distribute pressure in order for the socket to be molded to his exact shape, creating a more comfortable fitting.
Unlike regular hand molding, when only two pressure points can be applied at one time, the Aqua System distributes equal pressure, leaving less room for pain points.
He also chose the Endolite Elan ankle, which uses hydraulic technology to mimic natural muscle resistance and ankle motion.
Though he has recovered remarkably well over the last five years, the road to recovery wasn’t necessarily easy. In all, he’s had nearly 60 surgeries and has been in and out of a wheelchair since his nearly-fatal injury.
However, he doesn’t let any of that stop him from his passions, including being independent and active outdoors.
“When I went through rehab I was so dependent on other people,” he said. “So the first time I drove was probably the first time I really felt like I was going to be alright.”
Leland said he bought a 1994 Ford Bronco with bench seats and taught himself how to drive with his left foot.
“I got the Bronco because the bench seats allowed me to sit sideways in order to drive with my left foot,” Leland said. “I really felt pretty independent for the first time since my amputation.”
Though getting on the road again is what kicked off Leland’s road to emotional recovery, he credits the outdoors as the therapy he really needed. Leland is an avid outdoorsman and motorcyclist, and he says that being active outside was the key to his recovery.
Before his injury, he had been riding motorcycles since high school, but he feared his amputation would prevent him from pursuing that passion ever again.
“I thought I would never ride again,” Leland said. “Now I’m back at it.”
Now, he participates in Run for the Wall, a 10-day motorcycle ride with thousands of other bikers who travel from Hot Springs to Washington D.C. The trek honors Vietnam Veterans who ride for those who can’t.
Though he has only participated in Run for the Wall once, he plans on continuing the mission. He has already reached out to local veterans who plan to join him next year.
He rides a 2013 Yamaha Stryker, which has been modified on the rear brake pedal so he can use the brake without pushing it too hard. To do this, the pedal was simply moved forward.
When he’s not cruising down the highway, Leland can be found outdoors hunting, fishing and boating.
“Just getting away from the technology and the TV, being with my kids, being active,” he said. “I encourage getting back to nature with the veterans I work with — it’s so therapeutic.”
Now, Leland uses his passion for all-things-outdoors to reach other disabled veterans through the Arkansas chapter of North American Hunters for Heroes.
The nonprofit takes wounded veterans and their families on outdoor adventures to help them heal. Currently, the organization has 174 followers in the Arkansas Chapter, which Leland founded. The chapter is only in its second year and is continuously growing.
“Arkansas veterans kind of get overlooked because we’re in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “So this is a chance for us to get together, share stories and just be with other veterans.”
The group goes on annual and monthly trips, such as their yearly hunting trip in Strong, Arkansas.
Though the organization does run on monetary donations, it is also largely supported by the generosity of local landowners who lend their land for hunting and fishing expeditions.
The most recent trip included two Arkansas Marines and Leland who traveled to fish off the Louisiana coast.
Leland now lives off of Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs with his wife and four dogs.
For more information follow Arkansas Hunters for Heroes on Facebook. There is an option for making donations.