LAKE LOS ANGELES – Littlerock High School graduate Steven Andrew Dassler Jr. signed up for the Army right after graduation in 2003 and was sent to Iraq just months later. Five months into his deployment, an explosive blew up under the armor-plated Humvee he was driving while his unit was on morning patrol in southeast Baghdad. The blast mangled his right leg below the knee. “My leg was numb. I thought I got a round,” said Army Spec. Dassler, 19. “I tried to slow down. I tried stomping on the brake and nothing happened.” Dassler, now fitted with a prosthetic leg and home on leave, is one of more than 15,000 American military personnel who have been wounded in the Iraq war. More than 2,000 have died. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week An Army specialist with the 3rd Infantry Division, Dassler enlisted in June 2003, waited to get his braces off and then went off to basic training in February 2004. He was sent overseas in January, first to Kuwait for a month, and then to Iraq. Dassler and his unit worked alongside Iraqi army and police, doing patrols and searching houses for weapons. Two soldiers in Dassler’s unit died. One was killed when his vehicle was hit by an explosive hidden in a light pole, the other in an exchange of gunfire with occupants of a vehicle that ran a checkpoint. Dassler was not supposed to have been in the vehicle that was hit by the bomb about 9 a.m. July 19. He was assigned to drive the second vehicle but replaced the driver of the platoon sergeant’s Humvee because the other driver was off on a pass. He remembered that the explosion was deafening and made his ears ring. He looked at his leg and saw bones sticking out of it and yelled for a medic. “I’d like to think I was pretty calm about it,” Dassler said. Dassler recounted his war experiences Tuesday to an eighth-grade social studies class at Challenger Middle School, which he attended. Casually dressed in a yellow T-shirt and denim shorts, he added levity to the class presentation by telling funny stories about his injury. He remembered that the medic tied a tourniquet around his leg and then said, “Dude, your eyebrows are singed off.” Dassler deadpanned, “That’s not the real problem.” He has a T-shirt that says, “Leg Story for 10 Bucks.” Depending on who he’s talking to, he will make up stories about how he lost his leg. In one version he tells people that he was in a really bad car accident but that he lost his leg when the ambulance door was slammed on it. He also has said he hurt his leg skateboarding, and it had to come off because it got infected. To be gentle, he once told a 2-year-old boy that his leg “didn’t want me anymore” and ran away. The boy said that was sad. Dassler assured him the other leg would stay because he “stapled it.” The students to whom Dassler spoke wrote essays to be submitted to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post titled, “Who Are Today’s Patriots?” Teacher Bruce Galler said some of his pupils struggled with the topic. “I found out Andrew had returned. I thought here’s a local 19-year-old patriot,” Galler said. Why not let him come and speak, “and teach them what a patriot is.” Also present for Dassler’s talk was his father, Steve, Lancaster public works assistant director and city engineer, and his mother, Brigitte, a noon duty supervisor at Challenger and instructional aide. Dassler is the fourth of sixth children. Dassler got commendations from Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich aide Norm Hickling and from the city of Lancaster from Wilsona School District board member Maurice Kunkel, who was a neighbor of the Dassler family. “I remember when he was a little kid,” Kunkel said. Before getting injured, Dassler had planned to make the military a career, but now plans to go back to school and become a computer graphics animator. He is at home for about three more weeks and then will return to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to continue his therapy. He will eventually get six different types of prosthetic legs that will allow him to do different things like running, jumping, swimming and pivoting. “Half the time, I don’t even know I have a prosthetic. It feels natural,” Dassler said. Dassler said he would go to Iraq over again, even if he knew he was going to lose a limb. “I just think that they need good government,” he said. Karen Maeshiro, (661) 267-5744 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!