Tampa, Florida - At 6'4" and nearly 300 pounds, Sergeant Austin Burchard is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to stature. The former high school football star from Kansas loved his time on the field as a center.
But, he loved his time in the military even more. At just 33 years old, this married father-of-two is grateful for living after coming so close to dying.
With a big smile, he told 10 News, "I know I'm here for a reason, because if not God would have taken me home. I'm here for a reason."
He was in the Army for just three months on assignment in Afghanistan in an outlying province, roughly an hour south of Kabul bordering Pakistan.
He was protecting his fellow soldiers, and before he knew it his life changed in an instant. He was shot near his spine. The bullet ricocheted inside of him, hitting every major organ, just barely missing his heart and lungs.
"The first thing I had to do was forgive the person who shot me and that's a hard thing to do," the sergeant told us. "It's a hard thing to do. But, I did it because that's the only way I could move on."
Within hours, the young hero was rushed to Walter Reed Hospital, then the VA in Tampa. his heart stopped twice in transit. He was placed in a medically induced coma. He lost a kidney, his spleen, his colon, and he would never regain the use of his legs.
His wife, Donna, said he "never cried, until I told him about his friends who died" in combat.
"That's when he cried. He thought he should have been there to save them. He was sad he wasn't there to prevent their deaths," she said.
Despite being in a wheelchair, you can't stop this guy. In fact, his wife said, "We have to sync our calendars because we are so busy. He speaks to so many people."
Part of the reason he's so happy and so successful is due to his four-legged solider by his side, Chase.
"He has become a big part of my life. I love him, he's my boy!" said Burchard.
The other reason this sergeant, now retired, is doing so well? A positive mental attitude and his spiritual life. "God has me here for a reason. I owe it to him and my faith."
On this Veterans' Day, the former football star will return to the field at the Bucs game, thanks to Warrior Wishes, a group making dreams come true.
"I can't thank them enough," said Sgt. Burchard.
The group's goal is to visit 32 NFL stadiums all over the country, helping veterans at each location.
As for the other people he wants to thank, he served alongside them. And then there are the heroes who came before him.
"I just have to remind myself to take time out to say thanks to them for paying that price. Freedom isn't free."
"This is a day to remember my brothers."