Retired Marine Corporal Matthew Bradford, who was injured in Iraq in 2007 when he stepped on an IED, is one of President Donald Trump’s guests for the 2018 State of the Union, according to the White House.
Bradford will be joined by his wife and child and will sit with First Lady Melania Trump and be recognized by the president during his speech. He is one of several State of the Union guests (see the full list and learn about them here).
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bradford Lost Both of His Legs & Was Blinded by Shrapnel After Stepping on the IED
Corporal Matthew Bradford enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from Dinwiddie High School in Virginia in 2005, according to WRIC-TV.
Bradford joined the Marines because of 9/11, he told KyFoward in 2014.
“From that moment on, I just realized that I wanted to serve and defend my country,” Bradford, who was a high school freshman during the attacks, told the online newspaper. “They brought these terrorist acts to the United States where my family and friends live and threatened all of our lives.”
After training at Parris Island in South Carolina and at Camp Geiger in North Carolina, Bradford was assigned to 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines Echo Company 2nd Platoon, based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Bradford, then 20, deployed to Iraq in September 2006. They were based in Haditha.
“We deployed [into] a very hostile area,” Bradford told KyForward. “We got shot at every day, a lot of explosions and people getting killed and wounded.”
On January 18, 2007, Bradford stepped on a roadside bomb while walking down a road next to a compound on the Euphrates River. Bradford saw a white bag leaning against a tree about 30 feet in front of him. He warned his team and then turned back to see wires coming from under the road. Moments later the improvised explosive device exploded under his feet. The IED blast left him in a coma for three weeks. He had his left leg amputated above the knee and his right leg amputated below the knee. He also suffered loss of vision in both eyes from shrapnel, along with injuries to his left arm, right hand and small intestine.
He told KyForward, “When I first found out about my injuries, I had the guilt of leaving my friends behind [in Iraq]. I also didn’t like waking up and knowing that I didn’t have any legs. When they told me that, I was crushed. I realized I was only 20 years old, that I still had a long life ahead of me. Anything a normal person can do, I can do.”
2. After Several Surgeries & Therapy He Reenlisted in the Marines, Becoming the First Double Amputee to Do So
Bradford underwent several surgeries at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He then went through therapy, including learning to walk on two prosthetic legs, at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He also participated in Blind Rehabilitation Training at Hines Veterans Affairs in Illinois in 2008.
“Every day, he would show up faithfully at 1 o’clock, despite having a full belly after lunch,” his physical therapist, Matt Parker told the San Antonio Express-News in 2010. “He’s done things most able-bodied people can’t do.”
Bradford caught the eye of President George W. Bush during a November 2007 visit to the Inrepid Center. He was climbing a 35-foot artificial wall at the time. “Good man, isn’t he?” Bush said told reporters.
In April 2010, Bradford reenlisted in the Marine Corps, becoming the first double amputee to do so.
Bradford was assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battaltion at East Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from July 2010 to July 2012 after reenlisting.
3. Bradford, Who Is Married With 3 Children, Lives in Kentucky
Bradford was born in Kentucky, where he now lives with his family. He married his wife, Amanda, in April 2012. They have a 3-year-old daughter, Layla, together. Bradford also has two stepchildren, Nolan, 11, and Emma, 9.
“The amputated legs and the blindness, it’s worth it now because [my kids and wife] are going to get a chance to live in a free country,” he told KyForward. “Everything I did, it’s for [them].”
Bradford and is family received a home in customized home in Jessamine County, Kentucky, in 2013 through a program called Helping a Hero, according to the Herald-Leader.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know we are home,” Amanda Bradford said as they moved into the house.
Bradford said at the time, “I’m excited for the independence to go out back on my own. … This house is a new beginning for our family. The gift is so much greater than we ever could have imagined.”
4. He Is a Lifelong University of Kentucky Basketball Fan & Graduated From the School in 2017 With a Journalism Degree
Bradford is a lifelong fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team and is now a graduated of the school. He studied journalism and broadcasting and has dreams of becoming a sports radio analyst, according to WRIC-TV. He graduated in May 2017.
“I chose UK because it’s the only university I ever wanted to go to. A diploma from the University of Kentucky is a dream of mine. Just saying that I’m a student at the University of Kentucky means a lot to me,” he told UKNow. “God didn’t keep me alive to just sit around in my house and do absolutely nothing, so I’m still getting my degree. It’s getting me out there and getting me around people and sharing my story and doing the things I love.”
“I live my life every day to it’s fullest,” Bradford said. “I go out and accomplish things. I enjoy getting out and doing new things, especially when somebody tells me I can’t do it. That just motivates me more and more to go out and do it.
In 2015, Bradford was honored at a Kentucky basketball game.
“I think I was more nervous at Rupp Arena than I was in a fire fight,” Bradford told WKYT-TV. “It means a lot to go somewhere and someone say thank you for your service and shake your hand.”
Bradford has worked on his bucket list since his injuries, he told the news station. He went skydiving, competed in four Marine Corps half marathons and shared a stage with country singer Toby Keith.
5. Bradford Retired From the Marines in 2012 After Taking Part in ‘Operation Proper Exit’ & Has Been a Motivational Speaker Since
Bradford retired as a corporal on August 1, 2012. Before his retirement, Bradford took part in Operation Proper Exit, a program that helps wounded veterans return to Iraq and then make a proper return to the United States.
“It was one of my biggest accomplishments, going back there,” he told the Cranston Herald last May. “When I left, I was taken out in a medivac. Walking on that ground, and being able to fly back was my greatest accomplishment. The pilot got a note on the way back that Osama bin Laden had been killed. That was the ultimate reason we had all joined and it felt like closure, like a job well done.”
Since his retirement, Bradford has been a motivational speaker, meeting with students, other wounded veterans and charity organizations to talk about his experiences.
“I have lived out my dream. I have done what I wanted to do, I have defended the freedoms that you will all grow up with, that my children will all grow up with. Every day I am reminded of that when I put my legs on. These things were lost for freedom. It is all worth it in the end,” he told a classroom of students at a Rhode Island school in May 2017, according to the Cranston Herald.
“Aspiring to be perfect by never accepting failure can make the impossible possible. You are all the future. You are the future politicians, the future presidents. You can be anything you want to be, but you need to build the world with kindness. You live in America and you can do anything you want to do,” he told the class.
“Just being a Marine, I have that mentality of never quit, the honor, courage, commitment,” Bradford told KyForward. “You’re a Marine for life/”