May 18, 2007 -- It was a hot, still morning in southern Afghanistan. U.S. Army Capt. Daniel J. Glanz needed to get to Kandahar to do some paperwork before the replacements for his unit arrived later that month. His second deployment to Afghanistan had already been extended by a month. The one-time ROTC student was eager to get back to the States and to the University of Virginia, where he was studying for a second undergraduate degree.
A convoy assembled: three armored Humvees and an unarmored Ford SUV. Glanz, a civil affairs officer, found that traveling in rented trucks and SUVs made for a less-threatening profile as he rode through the region checking the progress of the wells and schoolhouses that his unit was building, so he settled into the Ford’s front passenger seat.
“Strangely,” Glanz recalls, “I hardly ever wore my helmet. That day I decided to wear it — probably because everybody else in the truck had theirs on.”
Nearly four hours later and just 30 minutes outside of Kandahar, the captain was chatting with the first sergeant behind the wheel. Relatively new in-country, the sergeant was asking about taxicabs — what did they look like and when should you be leery of them as potential threats?
In that moment, the wave of an explosion swept their vehicle. Glanz remembers the noise it made above all else. “It was a lowpitched sound, like somebody hit a gong right by my head, and that’s all I could hear for a while. I couldn’t see. I think that was from the concussion.”
As the dust cleared, it became apparent that the SUV had been attacked by a suicide bomber — driving a taxicab.
Within a couple of days, Capt. Glanz — one of four soldiers hurt in the attack — was on a transport headed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington with seven fractures and 100 stitches in his face, severe shrapnel wounds and nerve damage to his legs. His right arm had been amputated just below the elbow.
The Road to Afghanistan
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., Glanz first arrived on Grounds in 1989 aiming to join the foreign service. The Army ROTC program seemed like a double bonus, a chance to gain some real-world experience while paying for college.
It didn’t quite work out as expected. He did get a degree in foreign affairs, but the Army placed him on inactive reserve — basically, a name on a list. Four years later, he was assigned to an active reserve unit, which promoted him to weekend warrior.
He found work as a legal assistant, but it wasn’t his life’s calling. He realized that science and technology were his real passions, so in the fall of 2000, at age 28, Glanz returned to U.Va. as an undergraduate engineering student.
He quickly stood out, though not because he was older than his classmates. “He’s just a brilliant fellow,” observes engineering professor Robert J. Ribando. Ranked at the top of his class two years into his aerospace engineering program, Glanz won a prestigious research grant to probe supersonic scramjet technologies, which could one day move cargo or passengers from coast to coast in under an hour.
Then the Army called.
With the War on Terror a few months old, his civil affairs unit was being deployed. The School of Engineering and Applied Science put his grant on hold, and Glanz spent a year in Afghanistan. He squeezed in another year of school before being redeployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2004.
Most Afghans, weary from decades of war, welcomed American help in rebuilding their country, Glanz says, but that didn’t make his job easy. “They’ve been deprived of basic human necessities for so long that when something comes their way, they grab it,” he says. Getting them to trust that they have a future is the most pressing task.
And the rest? “Literally, less than 10 percent of the population has another agenda,” Glanz says. That was little comfort when the taxicab exploded.
The Road Back
An early caller was Ribando, who’d seen a newspaper article on his former student. Glanz was scheduled to take Ribando’s class in the fall. “I figured that he probably needed something to occupy him between therapies,” Ribando says, “so I just asked him if he would like to take my class [through distance learning].”
Glanz spent seven months learning how to use his new prosthetic arm. He underwent multiple surgeries to repair facial injuries and his burn-damaged right upper arm. Some ringing in his ears remains, but he has regained sensation in his nerve-damaged right leg.
He returned to U.Va. in spring 2006. He taught himself to take notes left-handed and resumed his research. He also married his longtime girlfriend, Laura Sharp, whom he met while skydiving.
His education now complete, Glanz will again walk the Lawn this weekend. He’s got a job lined up with Aerojet, a Northern Virginia space and defense contractor.
–This article is excerpted from “Promises Kept: Wounded Army Veteran Battles Back,” in the summer issue of the University of Virginia Magazine.