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De’Shawn Kittrell knew he was walking into a dangerous spot.

On Sept. 27, the 19-year-old Great Mills High School graduate was in Khenjakak, Afghanistan, where the U.S. Army private first class was taking part in a pursuit of Taliban combatants who had earlier been shooting at soldiers in the Afghan army.

“It was like a little path, with two walls on the sides. They told me to go see, with a metal detector,” Kittrell said this week, of his entry into a place where an improvised explosive device with a pressure plate had been buried.

“It went off, and ... I got flipped in the air. I was lying on the ground,” he said. “I pretty much knew I had got blown up. I saw that I didn’t have anything on my right leg below the knee. I was more pissed off than I was scared.”

The teenager’s sister was the first to enlist, early last year, and he followed suit a few months later, quickly transitioning from helping as a mentor at Carver Elementary School to being a boot camp recruit who was deployed to Afghanistan in April.

James W. Kittrell Jr., a retired Navy petty officer first class, and Tamara Kittrell, a civilian employee with the Department of Defense, were out having dinner on her birthday that September evening when they got the phone call that their son had been severely injured.

“It’s a complete state of shock,” Tamara Kittrell said of her reaction. “We were going back into the restaurant to tell our friends what happened, [and] five minutes later, he called himself.”

“It was like a regular conversation,” James Kittrell said. “It was ‘I guess you heard what happened. I got my leg blown off.’ I let him tell the story. It was like it was nothing to him, like he cut his face shaving.”

De’Shawn Kittrell received medical care in Afghanistan and Germany, before he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where this week he was becoming more adept at getting himself in and out of bed as he continues building his upper-body strength and preparing to be fitted with a prosthesis.

“I’m basically excelling very well,” he said, including recovering from a broken tibia in his other leg. “I really don’t think about [the explosion] anymore. A lot of people have different limbs that are lost. Some people have a lot more. I see myself as extremely lucky.”

His parents see him as a hero, as they anticipate his return home by Thanksgiving. “We’re extremely proud of him,” Tamara Kittrell said at the couple’s Great Mills home. “He was doing what he was supposed to be doing. He was there for a mission. He was doing his job. From the moment we found out, he’s been nothing but upbeat.”

“He is a soldier,” his father said.

De’Shawn Kittrell said he hopes to continue to be one.

“I plan on staying in,” he said. “It all depends on your injuries and how you perform. It all depends on what they want me to do.”

jwharton@somdnews.com