More than five years after crashing in an Iraqi desert, crushing his spine on impact, retired Army pilot Gary Linfoot will walk again on Veterans Day.
Using an exoskeleton that straps onto his waist and legs, Linfoot, of Clarksville, Tenn., will make the historic steps twice on Monday: once on NBC’s “Today” show and later in the afternoon at the Statue of Liberty. The retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer and former pilot with the “Night Stalkers” of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) told The Leaf-Chronicle the $125,000 unit will allow him to someday walk his daughter down the aisle, an unthinkable task just a few years ago.
“The first time I stood up in it was such a cool feeling,” Linfoot told the newspaper of the Ekso Bionics exoskeleton. “I know, it’s not unassisted yet, but it was pretty cool to see the world from that perspective again, to be tall again.”
The device has been paid for by a privately-run nonprofit organization called Infinite Hero. Since its inception in 2011, the organization has issued grants totaling nearly $1.3 million to returning military veterans. Linfoot is the first veteran to receive the Ekso suit for personal use and will demonstrate its capabilities alongside his wife, Mari, and fellow veterans some five years after his helicopter suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure during his 19th combat tour in Iraq on May 31, 2008.
“It is among the greatest honors of my life to receive the first Ekso device,” Linfoot said in a release announcing the event. “To have the chance to walk again, to see my wife Mari eye-to-eye, and hug my children heart-to-heart is a feeling I cannot begin to explain. I’m thrilled to act as an ambassador to expand the use of this technology in the hopes to one day grant the same life-changing experience to other wounded veterans.”
Linfoot realizes he still has a “ways to go” in his recovery, but he’s undeniably giddy as to where technology may take him one day.
“I don’t want to oversell this,” Linfoot told The Leaf-Chronicle. “It’s just the basics, so it has a ways to go, but with modern technology, it seems like the capacity doubles every few years. Where we’re at, you can equate it with the Model A Ford. Look how that started out and look at what we’re driving now. You have to start somewhere.”